Opinion writer

President Trump has been taking hostages for two years. He ordered an end to dreamers' protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, ordered an end to the temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of people, and then forced a shutdown of the government, leaving 800,000 without a paycheck and inflicting financial and emotional pain on them, their families and (often small) businesses. And then he came up with a deal — such a deal! He would give partial relief to the dreamers and TPS people and get $5.7 billion for a wall; then he’d open the government.

Wait, you say. Wasn’t he the one who put DACA and TPS folks at risk, and haven’t the federal courts already given DACA beneficiaries a likely one-year reprieve? Well, yes. A burglar has broken into your home, has taken the silver and is now offering to lease it back to you for three years only — but first, give him a $5.7 billion edifice.

Alas, the press — fresh from a BuzzFeed beating — now presents Trump’s “offer” as serious. It’s not. Here is what would be a serious way to proceed:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brings the bill to the floor and allows amendments. 
  • After the amendment process is finished, the Senate votes.
  • The House puts together its own bill: permanent DACA and TPS relief, money for border security (not a wall) and a way to prevent future shutdowns (e.g., an automatic continuing resolution in case funding lapses).
  • The House passes its bill.
  • As the two bills go to a conference, the government is reopened.
  • The House and Senate then negotiate a resolution. 

This does not reward hostage-taking. It allows the parties negotiate on even footing. It does not give McConnell and anti-immigration hard-liners the “out” that they won’t consider something Trump doesn’t want. Trump would be forced to decide at the end of the process either to veto a bill everyone else agrees upon or to sign a compromise measure — and he wouldn’t have the shutdown as a further bargaining chip.

Trump’s non-offer is instructive in three respects. First, his hard-line anti-immigrant supporters (e.g. Ann Coulter) already don’t like talk of “amnesty”; nothing short of deporting DACA recipients will do in their book. If McConnell votes and the Senate passes the president’s proposal, Republicans — including the president, we hope — will learn to ignore the most strident anti-immigrant voices and fulfill their obligation to negotiate without looking over their shoulders.

Second, Trump is plainly worried. Seeing the rotten polling for him and the wall, the impressive unity of the Democrats and McConnell’s unwillingness to help bail him out, Trump was forced to reverse his earlier pledge not to include DACA in the shutdown settlement. He blinked, albeit with his fingers crossed behind his back.

Third, if anyone still had doubts, Trump is the worst negotiator to occupy the Oval Office, in large part because he is utterly untrustworthy. We are in this predicament because Trump has repeated reneged on a deal (most recently a clean continuing resolution). Because he is entirely incapable of behaving honorably, Congress must act independently. McConnell should now be prodded to emerge from behind Trump’s skirts and negotiate in good faith as half of an equal branch of government. That might actually generate a reasonable compromise.