As we enter Day Three of the government shutdown, the New York Times reports a remarkable tidbit of information that provides a window into this question:
When President Trump mused last year about protecting immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, calling them “these incredible kids,” aides implored him privately to stop talking about them so sympathetically.
Why would Trump’s aides implore him not to talk about the dreamers as sympathetic figures? The easy answer is that it risked undercutting him politically when he ended their protections. But the deeper answer, I think, tells us a lot more about what’s really driving this whole standoff.
As of now, a bipartisan group of senators is suggesting a bill funding the government for three weeks in exchange for assurances from GOP leaders that they will hold a vote on immigration later. A vote is set for noon today on this, but Democrats are not ready to embrace it, The Post reports, because they “want stronger assurances” that this process actually will result in legal protections for the dreamers.
The parties’ basic calculations run as follows. Republicans want to force Democrats to cave and pass a spending bill without any protections for the dreamers, because Republicans will have more leverage to extract more hard-line immigration concessions if the vote on the dreamers does happen later, decoupled from the government funding dispute. Democrats don’t want to forgo this leverage — without the government funding at stake, there will be less pressure on Republicans to even hold such a vote later anyway. Republicans are betting red-state Dem senators will capitulate.
But whatever happens in this short-term standoff, at the end of the day, Trump and Republicans will either have to protect the dreamers, or decide not to. And this will settle the question of how they fundamentally view these people.
As it is, Trump’s vacillation on the dreamers is a major cause of the shutdown. Trump was first warm to, but later rejected, the original bipartisan deal that would have protected the dreamers, because his hardline advisers talked him into believing he wasn’t getting enough immigration concessions. Then Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled openness to giving Trump his border wall, and they were close to another compromise, but Stephen Miller and Chief of Staff John Kelly intervened. GOP Congressional leaders also helped scuttle it.
There are two ways to interpret this. Either Trump’s hard-line advisers and/or GOP leaders don’t actually want any deal that protects the dreamers, or they do want one eventually and hope to maximize leverage to extract more of what they want later. But either way, the bottom line is that the right wing is vetoing the current bipartisan compromise effort. And Trump cannot decide what price would make protecting the dreamers worth his while, which is why he keeps getting manipulated into backing off from compromises.
A deeper vacillation
At the core of this is a deeper vacillation — about who the dreamers really are. Trump and GOP leaders have in the past repeatedly cast the dreamers as morally blameless for their plight and have vowed to enable them to continue making positive contributions to American life. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) did just this in a year-old dramatic exchange with a dreamer mom.
Yet Trump and Republicans have pivoted to falsifying the real cause of the shutdown by bashing Democrats for closing down the government to protect “illegal immigrants.” This is a dramatic swing toward portraying dreamers as nothing more than lawbreakers — toward lumping in the dreamers with the broader undocumented population, which Trump has tarred with all kinds of lies about immigrants committing crime, harming low-skilled U.S. workers and perpetrating terrorism. Is this the real GOP view? As Brian Beutler points out, the legislative history here does betray sustained GOP treatment of the dreamers in precisely these terms. Or, as David Bier puts it, House Republicans cannot “accept dreamers as Americans” and view them only as “criminals on parole.”
Indeed, to return to the point above, Trump’s advisers are actively discouraging him from rhetorically treating them as sympathetic figures. All this is perhaps about maximizing leverage later: If the dreamers are just another species of criminal alien, then Democrats had better give up a lot — cuts to legal immigration and changes to family-based migration — to gain their protection. But it remains unresolved whether Trump and Republicans are willing to legalize the dreamers at all — whether they actually do or do not view them in sufficiently sympathetic terms. If they can’t get to Yes — if no reasonable set of concessions is enough — it will be because treating the dreamers as fundamentally different from other undocumented immigrants is a Rubicon they cannot cross.
Are the dreamers nothing more than unwanted immigrants from “shithole countries”? We don’t know how Trump and Republicans will resolve this question. But it can’t be postponed forever.
* TRUMP STAYS AWAY FROM SHUTDOWN: CNN offers this remarkable description:
On Sunday, there was little to indicate Trump was taking a leading role in helping break the stalemate between Democrats and Republicans. He did not appear in public. He hasn’t taken a meeting at the White House since Friday. And his only tweet of the day, calling for an end to the Senate filibuster, was roundly rejected by Republican congressional leaders.
CNN also reports that Trump has privately told GOP leaders that they need to come up with a way out, rather than offering his own ideas for it.
* YEP, IT’S TRUMP’S SHUTDOWN: Schumer (D-N.Y.) said yesterday that he’d offered Trump the wall money he (Trump) said he’d need to accept a deal on the dreamers; that a deal was progressing; and that Trump then walked away. As Schumer says:
“I essentially agreed to give the president something he has said he wants, in exchange for something we both want,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor. “The president must take yes for an answer. Until he does, it’s the Trump shutdown.”
Once again, Trump himself says he wants to protect the dreamers; the dispute is over how much he will get in return for doing what he says he wants to do.
* DEMS HOLD WIDE LEAD IN BATTLE FOR HOUSE: A new Post/ABC News poll finds that Democrats are leading Republicans in the generic House ballot match-up by 51-39 among registered voters. Note this:
The Post-ABC poll finds Democrats holding a 57 percent to 31 percent advantage among female voters … white women have moved sharply in Democrats’ direction, favoring them over Republicans by 12 points after supporting Trump by nine points in 2016 and Republican candidates by 14 points in the 2014 midterm election, according to network exit polls.
Though other recent polls have found a narrower edge for Dems. those numbers among white women will alarm Republicans.
* POLL GIVES NARROW EDGE TO DEMS IN SHUTDOWN FIGHT: A new Politico/Morning Consult poll finds:
More voters would blame Republicans in Congress for the government shutdown, 41 percent, than would blame Democrats, 36 percent. Democratic and Republican voters, by wide margins, held the other side responsible. But more independents said they would blame Republicans, 34 percent, than Democrats, 27 percent.
Voters are split on whether protecting dreamers is worth a shutdown. We’ll need more polling to gauge how this is shaking out, but those indy numbers are encouraging to Dems.
* WHY DEMS ARE WARY OF A DEAL: Politico reports that a deal might come together that includes three weeks of funding, plus a commitment by GOP leaders to hold a vote on immigration issues later. But:
Some liberals are still wary. They fear that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could repeat the exercise of 2013, when the Senate passed an immigration bill and the House didn’t take it up. “It depends on whether it’s part of a must-pass bill. That is my strong preference. The goal is to have the [DREAM] Act passed,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in an interview. “I have no confidence, zero, in Paul Ryan bringing that bill to the floor.”
Also, Ryan made a high-profile and heartfelt plea to a dreamer mom that Republicans would act to protect her, and said Trump agreed, which shows how good his word is on this.
* TRUMP KEEPS LYING ABOUT IMMIGRATION AND TERROR: Trump has been saying that the vast majority of people convicted of terrorism are foreign-born. But Post Fact Checker Salvador Rizzo takes apart the claim, showing that it is based on an administration report that reached this finding based on international terrorism, not terrorism here, and showing that the report itself is flawed in multiple other ways.
As Rizzo notes, this line from Trump is central to his argument for more restrictive immigration laws. But it’s based on a misrepresentation of his own administration’s data, which itself is questionable.