Trump: "A bill of love" on DACA coming this week

Can you feel the love yet? We’ll get to that in a moment, but any love sensed in today’s summit meeting on immigration called by Donald Trump might be from who wasn’t included in the attempt to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats on DACA and the budget. Washington has ten days left to avoid a government shutdown, and Bernie Sanders aside, the fallout from such a standoff is tough to predict. What is surprising is that Trump’s bypassing top congressional leaders in both parties to attempt to cut a deal:

U.S. President Donald Trump will meet on Tuesday with Republican and Democratic lawmakers in an uphill search for an election-year compromise on protecting thousands of young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. …

Top congressional leaders are not expected to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Instead, the guest list is set to include lawmakers from both parties involved in the immigration debate, such as Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat.

One of the non-invitees threw a little shade at the participants, which calls into question just how fruitful this effort might be:

Nancy Pelosi, head of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, indicated she did not expect much progress from the meeting.

“I would have more faith in the meeting if they would have people going who really knew the issue from our side,” she said, adding that she was not criticizing Durbin.

Paul Ryan seemed a little more optimistic despite his exclusion from the talks. Ryan emphasized the need for a “balanced package” that will prevent DACA issues in the long run:

The context for this effort is a months-long impasse on the FY2018 budget, which has led yet again to a series of continuing resolutions for keeping the doors open. Both Democrats and Republicans saw the wisdom of avoiding a showdown over the holidays, but both sides might be tempted to appease their bases with a shutdown. As of last night, that was where budget talks appeared to be heading:

Congressional Republicans and White House officials are increasingly skeptical that they’ll reach a long-term budget agreement with Democrats in the next 11 days, accusing progressives of slow-walking a spending deal until they get what they want on immigration.

Party leaders from both sides of the aisle have been quietly working to raise stiff spending caps to avert a government shutdown before Jan. 19, when federal agency funding runs dry.

But Republicans claim Democrats won’t back a long-term spending plan until Congress agrees to shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation. The Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave safe harbor to “Dreamers,” formally ends March 5, although some immigrants have already started losing their protections.

Yet Democrats and Republicans are still far apart on border security and other immigration provisions that would be needed to clinch a deal on the matter.

Or are they? Both sides have been relatively quiet about both the budget and DACA/immigration issues of late, which might suggest that progress is being made — and that they want to keep it quiet for now. And it might be that lower-level negotiations are paying off by getting top leadership out of the way, too. CNN reported yesterday evening that House negotiators might have found terms for a deal on DACA and immigration enforcement that both sides can tolerate:

A bipartisan pair of House members have reached a compromise on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and border security — a plan the two unlikely allies hope could provide a “foundation” for a deal President Donald Trump could sign into law.

Reps. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, and Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat and whip for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have been quietly working for weeks to develop their legislation, which the two sophomore lawmakers are releasing as a discussion draft as talks heat up on DACA ahead of a government funding deadline January 19 being used as leverage in Congress. The hope is, they say, that putting out a bipartisan proposal could speed up talks about resolving the issue. …

The bill would offer qualifying individuals the ability to get in line for a green card and eventual citizenship after years of conditional residency, provided they meet certain requirements, including a background check and work, education or military service requirements. The bill doesn’t make explicit reference to sponsoring relatives, but the bill summary notes that existing law would prohibit parents of these individuals who came to the US illegally to apply for a visa to come back without returning to their home country for at least 10 years before applying and the bill does nothing to erase that requirement. That addresses “chain migration,” or family-based migration, that Trump says he wants to cut.

Other provisions include increasing the number of immigration judges and attorneys, as the Justice Department has sought, to reduce the lengthy backlog of cases in immigration courts that cause people to stay in the US in limbo for years. The bill also coordinates efforts to improve conditions in Central America, to address factors that send undocumented immigrants to the US.

For the border, the bill draws heavily from Hurd’s “smart wall” bill that would direct the Department of Homeland Security to gain “operational control” of the border by the end of 2020 through “technology, physical barriers, levees, tools and other devices,” according to a bill summary shared with CNN.

In exchange, Democrats win a DACA fix that keeps the program alive through statute rather than an unconstitutional use of non-appropriated funds. That gives them a win for their base, while Trump can claim that he won funding for a “smart wall” that also includes a physical barrier. The only question will be whether those wins will be enough for both sides after months of heated rhetoric — which is another good reason to keep Pelosi & Schumer out of the room with Trump.

Trump told the press spray that a “bill of love” is coming this week on DACA. If so, it’s likely to offer a deal along the Hurd-Aguilar principles:

If lawmakers are truly looking for a compromise, this is an opportunity they should seize. If they don’t, well … we can conclude that cutting a deal was never the point at all.