(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

Almost exactly a year ago, Paul Ryan had a powerful, high-profile exchange with a young mother who was brought to this country illegally as a child. This “dreamer” mom was frightened and uncertain about what Donald Trump’s election meant for her future. At a CNN town hall, she asked Ryan whether people like her should be deported.

“No,” Ryan said reassuringly. He insisted that “I hope your future is here,” and that “I’m sure you’re a great contributor to [your] community.” Ryan told her not to worry about getting deported. He said: “We have to find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law.” He stressed that President Trump agrees.

Now hundreds of thousands of dreamers like that young mother are at risk of losing their protections. Trump and many Republicans have pivoted sharply to bashing Democrats for wanting to protect “illegal immigrants.” And House GOP leaders are refusing to commit to even holding a vote on any solution that the Senate produces for the dreamers.

Last night, that same mom, Angelica Villalobos, appeared with her daughter on “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell,” and reminded Ryan of his promise to her:

“He needs to think about what he said,” Villalobos said of Ryan. “He’s not meeting the promises that he made.”

Villalobos said that it often looks to her as though Congress is playing a “game” and that the uncertainty gripping their lives is “very scary at times.” She also talked about the contingency plans she had made for her 10-year-old daughter, who is a U.S. citizen, should something happen to her parents — say, deportation. The daughter said of Ryan: “He said not to worry, but now he’s not doing anything.”

It is the nature of the promise that Ryan made that matters. It was a promise not just to this young woman, but, delivered before a large national audience, it was a promise to hundreds of thousands of people like her, and to countless others who are their friends and family members and sympathizers, and to the country at large, about what Trump and the Republican Party truly stand for in this debate over the future of this vulnerable population.

Ryan’s message to all of those people wasn’t simply that dreamers will not be deported. Rather, it was that he and Trump see them as deserving of a future place in the United States, by virtue of the fact that they are blameless for their plight (having been brought here as children through no fault of their own), and by virtue of the fact that they are already contributing to American life. This is what Ryan meant when he said to Villalobos that it is on Republicans to give her a way to “get right with the law” and that “I hope your future is here.”

Trump and Republicans are going to have to decide whether they actually believe this, or not. Trump and Republicans have repeatedly given voice to the general sentiment that they do believe it. Ryan did so above. Trump has tweeted similar sentiments. Mitch McConnell has said he is “very sympathetic” to these “young people” who “were brought here at a tender age and who have grown up here.”

But right now, the evidence strongly suggests that they don’t, in fact, believe any of this, or don’t see any particular reason or need to act on this belief. Trump and Republicans have swung around sharply to bashing Democrats for wanting “amnesty.” In other words, they are now lumping in the dreamers with the broader population of undocumented immigrants, which Trump (and some Republicans) have tarred with all kinds of lies about them supposedly committing crimesharming low-skilled U.S. workers and perpetrating terrorism.

It is quite possible that the Senate will produce a bipartisan solution that legalizes the dreamers. It also seems likely that a majority of House Republicans would accept such a solution, one that legalizes them in exchange for a set of concessions (border security money, changes to the legal immigration system) that some Democrats might be able to accept and that might be able to pass the Senate. But will Ryan allow such a deal to move forward? Or will he let the nativist right set the agenda and veto any such compromise?

House Republicans may not prove willing to legalize the dreamers at all. Or they may say they are only willing to do so in exchange for “poison pill” demands that are deliberately made so onerous that they make any compromise impossible, in hopes of blaming Democrats for the failure of a deal, which Republicans will have brought about to keep the right happy.

If Republicans opt for this latter scenario, of course, it may be politically brutal for them. We keep losing sight of just how cruel a toll Trump’s policies are taking on immigrants, even as the media keeps telling heartrending stories about coal miners and forsaken Rust Belt industrial workers (Trump’s policies aren’t helping them, either, but that’s another story). But if the dreamers lose work permits and are driven back underground into a shadowy and precarious existence, or, worse, targeted by the nation’s deportation machinery, presumably we’ll hear more of their stories, too.

Either way, Trump and Republicans will have to make this decision soon enough. At the core of that decision is the fundamental question of how, at bottom, they view the dreamers — their moral plight, identity and connection to the American experience. And that question remains unanswered.

* FLYNN CONCEALED FBI INTERVIEW FROM TRUMP: NBC News reports that former national security adviser Michael Flynn concealed the FBI interview (in which he lied) from the president. But note this, about White House counsel Don McGahn:

McGahn did not later ask Flynn if he lied to the FBI, one person familiar with the matter said. This person said it was unclear if Flynn intended to lie and that McGahn did not conclude that Flynn had lied to the FBI until after he had been fired. It was at that time in late winter or early spring that the White House received a request from the FBI for phone records and other documents related to Flynn that McGahn and other top officials concluded he had lied in his interview and was otherwise under investigation, this person said.

This would mean the White House knew Flynn had lied to the FBI well in advance of Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, which he did after urging Comey to lay off Flynn.

* MUELLER PROBE BRINGS IN TOP OFFICIALS: The new NBC News report also tells us this:

NBC News also has learned that former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who informed the White House about Flynn’s interview two days after it took place, has cooperated with the special counsel. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was allegedly asked by Trump to lean on Comey to drop his investigation, has also been interviewed, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

Yates told the White House that Flynn had misled top Trump officials about contacts with Russia. Pompeo was there when Trump asked him and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to get Comey to back off. Mueller is looking at obstruction.

* TRUMP PRESSED COMEY’S REPLACEMENT: Just after firing Comey, Trump invited then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe to the Oval Office. Then this happened:

The two men exchanged pleasantries, but before long, Trump, according to several current and former U.S. officials, asked Andrew McCabe a pointed question: Whom did he vote for in the 2016 election? McCabe said he didn’t vote, according to the officials.

Trump fired Comey after demanding his loyalty and pressing him to drop the probe into Flynn. Trump apparently wanted to establish whether he could expect loyalty from Comey’s replacement.

* GET READY FOR A BIG DEBATE ON IMMIGRATION: Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who genuinely appears to want a solution for the dreamers, has this to say about what will happen now, after the shutdown fight:

“What came out of this mess was a date certain to move on immigration. That’s positive. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, we’re now moving on immigration. That wouldn’t have happened without this conflict.”

This seems right. We don’t know whether it will result in a solution for the dreamers, but a big debate and battle over immigration are now upon us.

* NEW CENSUS QUESTION COULD HELP REPUBLICANS: The Justice Department wants to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. Michael Scherer reports that some advocates for Latinos worry this will lead to an undercount of them:

[The change] could shift the nation’s balance of political power from cities to more rural communities over the next decade and give Republicans a new advantage drawing electoral boundaries. … noncitizens … are counted for the purposes of … apportioning congressional seats … “The Justice Department’s proposal to request citizenship status as part of the census is extremely damaging to the ability to secure an accurate count,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

A feature, not a bug.

* CONSERVATIVES KEEP UP PUSH ON NUNES MEMO: The memo by Rep. Devin Nunes is likely a cherry-picked compilation of info designed to further discredit the Russia probe. The Post reports that House conservatives are enlisting Trump to push for its release:

Leaders of the House Freedom Caucus have sought to enlist Trump’s help in their bid to win public release of the memo. During a phone call Thursday, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the caucus’s chairman, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a co-founder of the group, told Trump of the memo and their campaign to release it, according to people familiar with the call.

How long until Trump starts tweeting for its release?

* TRUMP RENEWS DEMAND FOR HIS WALL: Here’s the latest thoughtful and considered utterance from the president of the United States:

Well, at least Trump has helpfully framed the next shutdown fight: Give me my ludicrous and deeply unpopular wall or no deal!