Mulvaney to Dems: What's DACA worth to you?

After three days of a stunt shutdown, Democrats are still left to answer this question — and with a lot less leverage than they had before. It took those three days for Chuck Schumer to realize that Americans didn’t care enough about DACA and “dreamers” to shut down the entire government over it, which means he’s going to have to start making offers to Donald Trump. Mick Mulvaney explains the painfully obvious political calculation to CNN’s Christopher Cuomo, who appears intent on being obtuse:

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday that President Trump’s position on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program depends on what the White House gets in an immigration deal.

“We want a large agreement. We want a big deal that solves the reason we have a DACA problem in the first place,” Mulvaney said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“If you simply gave amnesty, whatever you want to call it, to the folks who are here, but don’t solve border security, then you’re simply delaying another DACA problem 10 or 15 years from now,” he added.

The report from The Hill doesn’t capture Cuomo’s weirdly hostile response to Mulvaney, who’s trying to answer Cuomo’s question by explaining the parameters of the negotiation. No one starts negotiating by declaring everything they will concede before the talks start. If Cuomo has a beef about negotiation, then he should invite Chuck Schumer onto his show and praise Schumer’s hostage-taking with the federal budget over the weekend, which worked out sooooo well. That’s a negotiation, too, except that one was so inept that its backfire will force Democrats to give Trump a lot more of what he wants.

What makes Cuomo’s hostility to the concept of political trade-offs even stranger is that this isn’t a new calculus, even in terms of DACA. Schumer tried trading off $1.2 billion in border-wall construction (enough for about 200 miles) in exchange for amnesty not just for the “dreamers” but also for their parents, as well as keeping options open for family-linked migration for recipients whose parents entered the US illegally. That was a bad trade, and the White House made that painfully clear, even if that meant embarrassing Lindsey Graham for a few days.

The question isn’t whether we’ll get a legitimate, statutory form of DACA; Trump has said he wants Congress to create the program. But he wants his border-security priorities funded along with it, and Mulvaney makes a legitimate argument for linking the two even apart from the use of leverage. His question — “what’s it worth to Democrats” — is the right one to ask. Schumer has already tried to apply leverage by holding the government (and CHIP, for that matter) hostage in order to force Trump to meet his terms. That didn’t work, so now Schumer will have to move in Mulvaney’s direction.

We’ll see if the “dreamers” are worth $10-20 billion in committed, appropriated funding for a project Schumer and his fellow Democrats authorized in 2006. If not, then maybe Cuomo should ask Schumer what value he really places on “dreamers.”