It isn’t every day that the White House puts out documents that unwittingly reveal that there’s no way to trust President Trump to negotiate in good faith, but that’s what just happened.
On Thursday night, Trump’s allies tried to float the idea that he’s interested in possibly ending the government shutdown with a deal that trades some sort of protections for young immigrants brought here illegally as children for the $5 billion he wants for his border wall.
One Trump ally who suggested this is Sean Hannity. On his show, Hannity said that Trump is “willing to talk about Dreamers.” You may recall that Hannity speaks privately to Trump nearly every evening, so it must be treated as plausible, or even likely, that they discussed this first, and that Hannity trial-ballooned it for Trump.
Meanwhile, Vice President Pence told Tucker Carlson that Trump might be considering such a deal, saying that “it’s being talked about.” It’s hard to imagine either of these things would have happened without some inside the administration — and possibly Trump himself, on a whim — wanting such a deal to be seen as a possibility, if only to make him seem reasonable.
But the White House and the administration then immediately turned around and confirmed that there’s no reason to take anything like this even remotely seriously.
First, the White House released a briefing prepared by the Department of Homeland Security that lays out the administration’s view of the current border crisis. It states that the solutions required to address it include not just Trump’s wall, but also two other measures that would change laws influencing how migrants are treated.
The first of those changes involves ending the Flores settlement. This would allow for the indefinite detention of migrant families, including children. The administration wants this because it is constrained from keeping children in detention for longer than 20 days — which means that after that period has passed, the only two options are family separations (which Trump halted in the face of legal challenges and an intense outcry) or releasing families into the interior.
Trump hates that latter option, because he claims that enormous percentages of those families don’t show up for their hearings. That’s a wild exaggeration.
The second of these changes would entail changing a federal law in a way that would make it easier to remove Central American migrant children (many of today’s asylum seekers are from the Northern Triangle) from the United States. The White House also sent a letter to Capitol Hill reiterating these demands.
But ultimately, what those demands really show is that there would be no percentage whatsoever in pursuing a deal that trades the wall for protections for the “dreamers.” Because at bottom the wall simply would not be enough for Trump and his Immigration Iago Stephen Miller.
You might argue that it’s not necessarily mutually exclusive for some to float the wall-for-dreamers deal even as others are striking a harder line by demanding those legal changes as well. But here the larger context is key: We have already been down this road, and we have already seen an apparent openness to a wall-for-dreamers deal get killed because Trump and Miller wanted more.
This history is important, so I will repeat it: A year ago, Democrats offered Trump $25 billion for the wall — that is, full wall funding — in exchange for legalizing the dreamers. Trump appeared open to the deal. But Miller whispered in Trump’s ear and got him to walk away because it didn’t include massive cuts to legal immigration.
Right now, something similar is happening again. Some inside the administration obviously wanted us to believe that Trump was open to a wall-for-dreamers deal. But then someone else inside the administration (let’s stipulate that his initials are S.M.) made sure to add on new conditions in the form of these legal changes. In both these cases, the additional demands are non-starters for Democrats — this time, those changes would produce terrible humanitarian outcomes — and S.M. almost surely knows this.
Miller wants such deals killed before they can happen. This is how advocates and Democrats are reading the situation, and they are very likely right. “Last year, Miller undermined every serious attempt to cut a bipartisan deal on the dreamers,” Frank Sharry of America’s Voice emailed me. “Now, the day after Trump allies float the possibility of broadening the shutdown negotiations, demands that are non-starters for Democrats show up. Go figure.”
Democratic leaders just got through meeting with Trump. Afterward, Trump suggested that the shutdown could last for months, or even years, if he doesn’t get what he wants.
But the bottom line here is that Trump — and Miller — want other things at least as much, or perhaps even more, than they want the wall. They want deep cuts to legal immigration, and legal changes that will make it easier to lock up families indefinitely, on the grounds that this cruel prospect will dissuade migrants from trying to seek refuge in the U.S. The only way they’ll make a deal on the dreamers is for those things. This, even though we already know asylum seekers are driven by truly terrible conditions at home, meaning such deterrence is unlikely to work, and even though we already saw that even the cruelty of family separations didn’t have this effect.
There is no negotiating with this president, and the White House has helpfully confirmed it.