Analysis: Trump Reversal on DREAM Act Demands Jeopardizes Bipartisan Compromise

Posted: Oct 09, 2017 1:05 PM

America's top dealmaker just radically altered the dynamics of a potential DREAM Act deal with Democrats, dimming prospects for a timely resolution.  One-sixth of the provisional period the president allotted for Congressional action after his cancellation of Obama's legally-dubious executive action has now expired.  Republicans on the Hill have made clear that they're open to striking a deal, so long as the new DREAM Act entails, or is paired with, border security and enforcement enhancements.  House Speaker Paul Ryan asserted that a standalone "clean" DREAM Act would not emerge from the GOP-led House, echoing similar warnings from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.  Even two conservative Republicans who introduced fairly expansive legislation to protect DACA-eligible illegal immigrants, including an eventual path to citizenship, emphasized that their own bill was a non-starter absent stepped-up enforcement requirements.

I wrote a piece last month wondering if Democrats would be wiling to take 'yes' for an answer if the GOP came to the table with a reasonable enforcement/DREAM hybrid plan.  The likelihood of a constructive agreement coming together increased considerably, it seemed, when the Trump administration announced that funding for "the wall" would not be a 'red line' demand for Democrats as a deal was being hashed out.  Here's the The Hill's reporting from just a few weeks ago:

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told reporters on Tuesday that President Trump would not demand that border wall funding is tied to a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Speaking at a roundtable event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Short said the administration didn’t want to “bind” itself by making a demand that would likely be a nonstarter for many lawmakers. “We’re interested in getting border security and the president has made the commitment to the American people that a barrier is important to that security,” Short said. “Whether or not that is part of a DACA equation, or ... another legislative vehicle, I don’t want to bind us into a construct that would make the conclusion on DACA impossible.”

My analysis at the time -- which rested on the presumption that this reflected a stable and reliable White House stance -- was that this development significantly boosted the chances that a mutually-agreeable plan could be developed, especially because the conservative House Freedom Caucus had reportedly signed off on the notion of a wall-free DACA compromise: "The upshot of all of this is that the ingredients for a successful passage of a DREAM-Act-plus-enforcement package are all in place. With two of the biggest potential impediments to a deal (dead-end Trump demands and entranched conservative opposition) out of the way, it seems as though the likelihood of this happening has increased substantially," I wrote.  With those 'ingredients' in the mix, I proffered a proposal fashioned to realistically extract meaningful concessions from Democrats without chasing them away from the negotiation.  Namely, the White House could enumerate a series of enforcement-centric provisions in the 2013 'Gang of Eight' bill as Trump's security demands, including the construction of 700 miles of new fencing, the hiring of thousands of new border patrol agents, and the tightening of internal enforcement measures.  

Today, the White House outlined a new list of priorities for a potential DACA bill.  As Leah reported, the wall is suddenly back on the menu -- alongside a slew of additional demands that touch on immigration hot buttons, ranging from sanctuary cities, to refugees, to elements of the RAISE Act.  Democratic leaders have already rejected the administration's new posture outright, which they say constitute an unacceptable departure from the tentative "understanding" they struck in private meetings with the president several weeks ago.  When I spoke with Sen. Marco Rubio about this issue in September, he emphasized the need for the White House to spell out exactly what the president would, or would not, be willing to sign:

We now have the latest (and most specific, to date) version of that answer, with a fresh Trump statement averring that the items on his new "principles and policies" roster "must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients."  Must.  Hot Air's Ed Morrissey thinks this looks like political incoherence from Team Trump, and that Democrats have zero incentive to cave:

Trump’s making an ask that he knows Democrats won’t — and can’t — possibly meet. Pelosi and Schumer shrewdly blame Trump’s “staff” and “administration” rather than the president himself for that, perhaps hoping to peel him away again...Overall, it looks as though the administration has no real strategy to deal with immigration and national security, and that they’re making it up as they go. After giving away the store to Pelosi and Schumer a month ago, Trump’s not going to convince them to give it back. They will believe after having won his concessions in September that Trump will change his mind again on DACA as the incentives shift, and all they need to do is wait him out. And they’re almost certainly right.

Democrats know that Trump has backed himself into a corner by expressing a strong desire to treat DREAMers "with heart," and putting Congress on the clock. They also know that codifying DACA into law is extremely popular, attracting the support of an overwhelming majority of Americans. So they'll be delighted to please their base by flipping Trump the bird on these new demands, which they'll pillory before a public that's very sympathetic to DREAMers' bind. Their approach will be to make Trump blink as his own deadline approaches, force him to extend an executive action that his own administration has labeled illegal -- or compel him to let DACA expire without an alternative resoltuion in place, an outcome most Americans would oppose. The Trump administration and Republicans could have played this in such a way as to divide Democrats and put them on the defensive. Today's news strengthens Schumer and Pelosi's hand.

Parting thought: Is the release of this new list part and parcel of Trump's "Art of the Deal" philosophy? Swing for the fences with a shocking "ask" to rattle and disorient the other party, then gravitate toward a middle ground that's been shifed in your direction?  I might buy that theory here, but Trump already helped drag the goalposts closer to Democrats a month ago in his meetings with Chuck and Nancy, after which his team announced that the wall wouldn't be a hard and fast demand.  That reflects more of an incoherent and haphazard approach than a carefully-plotted strategy. 

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