When Trump was running for president, he promised to immediately terminate DACA and called it “one of the most unconstitutional actions ever undertaken by a president.” He’s been in office for seven months now, so why did he wait to make an announcement about ending the program until today?
One possible answer is that 10 state attorney generals, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, wrote a letter to Sessions in late June threatening a suit to kill DACA if the president didn’t take action to end it by today, September 5th. But it’s interesting to note what would happen if Trump decided not to respond. Sessions has already made it clear that DOJ would not defend DACA in court and it is very likely that Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Neil Gorsuch, would have joined the other four conservative justices to end the program. That would have provided Republicans with the ability to say, “see, we told you, DACA was an unconstitutional reach by Obama.”
Instead, reports are that the Trump administration will announce that they are ending the program today, but will delay enforcement for six months. We are witnessing a flurry of Republicans step up to say that it is now the job of Congress to pass legislation to protect the Dreamers—even Speaker Paul Ryan. But the question is once again, why wait until now? Why have they never talked about this as one of their agenda items before? Why throw this into the mix when they are already facing the challenge of Hurricane Harvey relief, passing a budget, raising the debt limit and finally getting to tax reform? They could have done this months ago and let DACA die in the aftermath.
The reason all this is happening right now seems pretty clear. And it’s not because Donald Trump has been struggling with this decision. It is because Republicans want to use the Dreamers as a hostage to get something else they want in the budget negotiations. It isn’t clear yet what the ransom note will be. But there is no question about their intentions.
Kevin Drum posits that the Trump administration’s ransom will be funding for the border wall and suggests that this is simply the kind of horse-trading that happens during negotiations.
A lot of liberals are describing this as “hostage taking,” but I’m not sure that’s fair. That term is approporiate for things like threatening not to raise the debt ceiling, which would cause havoc, but not for fairly ordinary legislative maneuvering.
I respectfully disagree. “Ordinary legislative maneuvering” hasn’t usually involved taking protections away from people and then demanding something in return in order to give them back. Kevin is right that this wouldn’t cause the kind of global crisis that would come from failure to raise the debt ceiling. But that’s like suggesting that a kidnapper who only demands $1 million isn’t really a hostage taker compared to the one who demands $20 million. Does hostage taking merely depend on the level of havoc created by the ransom demand?
For the 800,000 Dreamers, these next 6 months will be havoc. Imagine what life will be like for them. By signing up for the program, they took the leap of coming out of the shadows and giving all of their personal information to the federal government—the same one that is now run by Trump and associates. We’ve all witnessed a Congress that can hardly pass a bill to name a post office. How would you feel about putting your future in their hands?
We’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole of Republican hostage taking that perhaps we’ve forgotten what it used to look like when Republicans agreed to food stamps in exchange for financial assistance to farmers. In a scenario like that, Trump might trade funding for his border wall as part of a package that included infrastructure investment. That would be the kind of ordinary thing that used to happen. But Republicans don’t play like that anymore. Their base has been taught that any agreement with the other side is capitulation and won’t tolerate it. The only recourse when they need Democratic votes is to take a hostage and demand payment.