A bipartisan group of senators reached a deal on immigration Wednesday as President Trump attempted to preemptively undercut the proposal by delivering an ultimatum: Pass my plan or risk a veto.
The self-dubbed “Common Sense Caucus” of senators late Wednesday circulated legislation that would fulfill Trump’s calls to grant legal status to 1.8 million young immigrants and would appropriate $25 billion for southern border security construction projects over the next decade — not immediately, as Trump wants. The bill also would curb family-based immigration programs, but not to the extent Trump is seeking, and would not end a diversity visa lottery program that he wants eliminated.
The dynamic here is interesting. Trump squawks that he needs his plan, which includes the wall and cuts in legal immigration, to be passed. He threatens to veto compromise plans — after once promising to sign anything the Congress gives him. But in the Senate, a substantial subset of lawmakers has learned to ignore him. (“His full-throated demand was released by the White House just minutes before a group of Democrats and Republicans gathered to negotiate an agreement.”) There is a majority, and possibly 60 votes, for a narrow bill addressing border security and “dreamers” only.
As for the wall, Congress knows full well that next year may see a Democratic House and/or Senate majority. Therefore, Congress has decided to pay for the wall, sort of on an installment plan. (“While the bill authorizes $25 billion in border security spending, as Trump wants, it does not provide the funding all at once. Instead, the bill would dole out approximately $2.5 billion this fiscal year to begin construction of walls and fencing and new access roads, and for the redeployment or hiring of federal immigration and border security agents. Beginning in fiscal 2019, another $2.5 billion could be spent annually on border security construction or personnel as part of the normal appropriations and congressional review process.”) We suspect that, with this approach, the wall will never get built, which is the point, I suppose.
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has a bill that advances Trump’s four-pronged approach (including eliminating the visa lottery and slashing legal immigration) — and is a nonstarter, in all likelihood, for a majority of the Senate. (It certainly cannot get 60 votes.) Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) once again is carrying Trump’s water, rather than trying to solve a problem and make a deal. He’s looking to pressure Republicans into voting no on the compromise versions first, and then putting the Grassley proposal on the floor. If Grassley’s version were to come up first and fail, chances of a compromise passing would be much greater.
We’ll see whether a straightforward “border security for dreamers” bill — which the vast majority of Americans support — will get through or whether the right-wing anti-immigrant crowd has a chokehold on the Senate.
If it does pass the Senate, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) will have a choice: Put that on the floor, where it enjoys strong bipartisan support, or pass an anti-immigrant wish list to be followed by a deadlocked conference committee.
The Senate needs to work its will. If it does, Ryan’s bluff will be called. His claim to care so very much for the dreamers will be revealed to be utterly disingenuous if he refuses to put a Senate bill that could easily pass the House on the floor. At that point, he becomes the roadblock and takes the blame for failure to protect the dreamers. (If he loses the majority, his speakership may be defined as setting the stage for mass deportations.)
Republicans rooting for failure on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program should be careful what they wish for. If a DACA fix is not reached, scenes of mass deportations and family separation will fuel a public backlash, energize the Democratic base and help put the final touches on a Democratic sweep. In that case, a Democratic-controlled House next year may come up with something a lot less to the GOP’s liking than what the party can gain now.