How the Trump Administration Ambushed a Bipartisan Deal on DACA

I’d like to revisit the question I raised last week about whether or not Democrats should stop negotiating with Trump on a replacement for DACA. Since then we’ve learned some things about what happened when the Senate bipartisan agreement was presented to the president.

First of all, we’ve learned what was included in the bipartisan compromise reached by Senators Flake, Graham, Durbin, Bennet, Menendez, and Gardner.

  • Allows young unauthorized immigrants who came to the US as children to get legal status — and eventually citizenship,
  • Prevents “chain migration” by preventing parents of DREAMers from becoming US citizens,
  • Eliminates the diversity visa lottery and reallocates the 50,000 visas currently used for it, and
  • A few billion dollars for the border.

It is worth noting that the $2.8 billion for the border (wall—plus other security) is roughly in line with what the White House asked for a single year on the border in its 2017 supplemental funding requests. So in exchange for protecting Dreamers, which Trump has pretended to want, Democrats were willing to give him the money he requested for border security, eliminate “chain migration” for Dreamers’ parents, and eliminate the diversity visa lottery. In years gone by, that would have been the kind of compromise one would expect from bipartisan negotiations. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. He said, “no,” and, in the process, made his “shithole” comments.

But even beyond that, the entire meeting involved an ambush that many have credited to Stephen Miller.

The leading negotiators on an immigration package — Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — were invited to the White House Thursday to huddle with Trump on their emerging agreement to combine protections for Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, with tougher border security and new restrictions on immigration.

They were reportedly surprised to find a handful of Republican lawmakers joining the meeting, including Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), as well as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), all immigration hard-liners who are opposed to the Graham-Durbin framework, which they deem too soft on enforcement.

“Graham and Durbin expect to have a meeting, they show up and there’s this anti-immigrant cast of characters there. And that was obviously designed by Stephen Miller to try to kill the deal,” said a senior Democratic aide.

The fact that Stephen Miller is attempting to sabotage any deal on the Dreamers should come as no surprise to regular readers here, since I wrote about the reporting on that previously. But regardless of who issued the invite, it is worth noting that these are the members of Congress who have either denied or refused to comment on Trump’s remarks about “shithole” countries. To get a sense of where they are coming from, here is something Cotton tweeted yesterday:

The important part of that tweet is that Cotton uses the term “amnesty” when referring to protection for Dreamers (what Democrats insist has to be part of any spending agreement). Anyone who knows how that word is used on the right will recognize that he is signaling to the Republican base that he won’t support any legislative solution to DACA.

Why is all of this important? Because for months now Trump and his hardline Republican friends in Congress have been suggesting that they support protections for the Dreamers. Now they are doing everything they can to ensure that doesn’t happen. There are two goals (not mutually exclusive) that may explain that:

  1. They do not, in fact, support protection for the Dreamers, and/or
  2. They want a government shutdown and are doing their best to come up with a way to blame it on Democrats.

Graham and Durbin plan to push forward with their bipartisan plan, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stated that he won’t consider any bill that doesn’t have Trump’s support, making him complicit in all of this.

Tara Golshan and Dara Lind sum up the situation:

Ultimately, any deal will have to meet only two conditions: It will have to be bipartisan enough to get 60 votes in the Senate, and it will have to win the president’s approval…

As long as Trump is relying on the Republicans least interested in an immigration compromise to advise him, like Goodlatte and Cotton, no bill that meets the first condition will be able to meet the second.

If you want to sabotage any agreement on DACA and/or spur a government shutdown, that’s how to do it. As long as that is the administration’s intent, I don’t see a need for Democrats to go any further in these negotiations. They compromised and put a good-faith offer on the table. If Trump and the hardliners simply reject it and offer nothing in return, a government shutdown is on them.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.