(Leah Millis/Reuters)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

The defeat in the Senate of four different bills to protect the “dreamers” is a very serious setback, but it does not end the dispute over their fate. Far from it: This only ushers in a new phase in the battle.

Because of that, what has happened so far has hidden value: It has illustrated the true battle lines in the broader argument over immigration with a level of clarity that was perhaps previously missing. Here they are:

  • Democrats believe the dreamers have a claim to a place in American life, along with millions of other undocumented immigrants who have not otherwise broken the law and have longtime ties to communities. Democrats want to facilitate their humane integration, rather than ramping up their removal; they favor allowing current legal immigration levels to continue.
  • Trump and most Republicans don’t believe the dreamers have a claim to a place in American life. They believe that as many undocumented immigrants should be removed from the United States as possible, even if they have otherwise broken no other laws and have longtime ties to communities. They want far fewer legal immigrants to settle here in the future.

The bill that mirrors Trump’s vision — the one that would have legalized 1.8 million dreamers only in exchange for huge new expenditures on border security and deep cuts to legal immigration — actually got the fewest votes in the Senate, garnering only 39. By contrast, the bipartisan compromise bill — which would have legalized the dreamers in exchange for huge new border-security expenditures and even some tweaks to legal immigration, while deprioritizing the removal of longtime residents — got the most, at 54. The White House whipped against the bipartisan bill because it would have only given Trump some of what he wanted, which lined up most Republican senators against it, including some moderates who might have voted the other way.

Here’s what we learned from that. The dreamers were brought here through no fault of their own; they are culturally American; many have jobs or studies or are planning lives here; many don’t know any other country. But Trump and Republicans don’t believe this gives them a claim to a place in American life. They will only grant them that place if the price is high enough. They were very clear on that price: more deportations; far fewer legal immigrants.

By contrast, in exchange for protecting the dreamers, the Democrats will give Trump money to build a wall and will even tolerate some tweaks to legal immigration, but will not tolerate serious cuts to legal immigration and will continue strenuously resisting efforts to seriously ramp up deportations.

The fate of the dreamers is now in limbo. But this also means that their fate will still need to be resolved. And this will unfold in the context of that broader argument.

The Supreme Court is set to address a lower-court decision that temporarily put Trump’s cancellation of protections for the dreamers on hold and ordered the administration to restart those protections. If the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn that decision, the cases will continue through the courts and the dreamers’ protections will be restored at uncertain rates. If the high court does overturn them, the dreamers’ protections will be gone for now.

But in either case, the dreamers will still be here. The only question is whether they’ll be immediately driven underground with their lives and futures upended (though handfuls could get deported here and there). “Either way, their futures remain up in the air,” immigration attorney David Leopold tells me.

Here’s what this stalemate has wrought for Republicans. The dreamers aren’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, the wall is not getting funded, and legal immigration is not getting cut. Democrats will keep advocating protecting the former. Trump and most Republicans will keep advocating the latter.

This sets up a continuing clash of visions that Democrats should embrace. The Democratic vision, generally speaking, is supported by large majorities in this country. The Trump vision is that of a shriveled, insular minority. Large majorities favor protecting the dreamers, oppose cuts to legal immigration and reject Trump’s basic arguments about immigrants being a malevolent and destructive force.

Because of this, as Brian Beutler explains, Trump and Republicans have been working hard to obscure their actual position in this debate, by working to hoodwink the press in advance into casting the failure to protect the dreamers as a bipartisan one, rather than as the direct outgrowth of their own widely despised demands.

In keeping with that, Trump and Republicans have worked to obscure how outside the mainstream their position really is. This is why Republicans keep claiming in one form or another that Trump’s is the “mainstream, middle ground” position; that Trump’s offer was “enormously generous“; that Trump met the Democrats “more than halfway.”

But the position of Trump and Republicans has now been exposed. They will protect the dreamers only in exchange for help in stepping up deportations and huge expenditures on a border wall and large cuts to legal immigration, all of which are hideously unpopular. Now that this dispute has been clarified, Democrats should want to take it into the midterm elections.

* TRUMP ADVISER SET TO COOPERATE WITH MUELLER: CNN scoops that former Trump adviser Rick Gates is close to reaching a plea deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, in which he’s likely to cooperate:

Gates’ cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against President Donald Trump or key members of his team. … Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller’s sprawling probe … It’s still unclear what Gates … could share that would be of value to the Russian collusion investigators, outside the Manafort case. The value of what a defendant says factors into the plea negotiation as both sides finalize the deal.

One of the CNN reporters who broke the story tweeted that Gates has “already talked” with Mueller “about what he knows.” Your regular reminder: We have no idea what Mueller has got.

* HOUSE MAY VOTE ON FAR-RIGHT IMMIGRATION BILL: The Post reports that even though all the bills protecting the dreamers failed in the Senate, the House may vote on its own measure:

The bill includes new resources for immigration enforcement away from the border; a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” — ­jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities; and a requirement that employers use ­“E-Verify,” a federal database, to check whether their employees are authorized to work in the United States.

In other words, dramatically ramped-up interior enforcement and removals. If this fails in the House, as it may, that would be a useful repudiation of this vision.

* LINDSEY GRAHAM RIPS STEPHEN MILLER: Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has worked in good faith to find a solution for the dreamers, puts his finger on the real problem here: “As long as the president allows Steve Miller and others to run the show down there, we’re never going to get anywhere.”

This is true. Miller is most responsible for duping Trump into believing that his base will revolt if he agrees to protect the dreamers even in exchange for getting his wall, which his base chanted about regularly at rallies.

* WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL ON HOT SEAT OVER PORTER: CNN reports that the FBI had photos of one of Rob Porter’s allegedly abused ex-wives seven days after the inauguration, raising questions about what White House Counsel Donald McGhan knew and when:

It’s unclear if the FBI sent the photos to the White House, though a law enforcement source said the bureau would have at least provided a synopsis of what they portray. But the existence of the photos is leading law enforcement experts and officials in previous administrations to strongly question how McGahn didn’t act on the domestic violence allegations.

As one expert notes, it’s likely the FBI would have included the photo or mentions of it in one of its briefings of the White House, meaning McGhan very likely knew of it early.

* WHITE HOUSE IS ‘RUDDERLESS IN CRISIS’: Politico points out the common thread running through the White House’s slow response to the Florida shooting and its badly botched handling of the Porter scandal:

In both cases, the president seemed to hang back behind staff decisions rather than taking decisive action to look engaged and involved. The response underscored the extent to which this White House, which is eternally engulfed by dramas — many of Trump’s own making — remains rudderless in a crisis and curiously flat-footed when true emergencies like the latest Florida shooting arise.

It’s really awesome having a hands-on businessman as president.

* NEW DETAILS EMERGE ABOUT SHOOTER: The Post reports that the FBI was alerted to an Internet posting in which one “nikolas cruz” wrote that “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI couldn’t identify the author. There’s also this:

Neighbors said Cruz had been spotted shooting at backyard chickens and trying to kill a squirrel to feed to his dog. Police visited the teenager’s home frequently, they said.

And an Instagram account that appeared to belong to Cruz featured photographs of firearms, including one showing a gun’s laser sight pointed at a neighborhood street. Another showed at least a half-dozen weapons laid out on a bed with the caption “arsenal.” A third appeared to show a dead frog’s bloodied body.

Trump, needless to say, focused his public remarks about the shooting only on mental illness and had nothing to say about guns.

* MEDIA ENABLES GOP’S BAD FAITH: Paul Krugman explains that the Republican Party basically operates in nonstop bad faith to cover up its actual, unpopular popular goals, and adds:

Washington is full of professional centrists, whose public personas are built around a carefully cultivated image of standing above the partisan fray, which means that they can’t admit that while there are dishonest politicians everywhere, one party basically lies about everything. News organizations are intimidated by accusations of liberal bias, which means that they try desperately to show “balance” by blaming both parties equally for all problems. But our job, whether we’re policy analysts or journalists, isn’t to be “balanced”; it’s to tell the truth.

This also applies very much to the immigration debate, in which the press coverage is woefully inadequate at capturing just how deep the rot of GOP bad faith really runs.