President Trump set the tone early Sunday morning, tweeting that Democrats “want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” Republicans on the Sunday talk shows echoed him: “How in the world after that speech does he sign a bill that would reduce the bed spaces available for violent offenders?” asked Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures," referring to Trump’s State of the Union address. “We got some problems with the Democrats dealing with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], that is detaining criminals that come into the U.S. and they want a cap on them, we don’t want a cap on that," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Protections for violent offenders” sure sounds like an odd stance for a political party to take. So it should be no surprise that it’s not accurate. Yes, Democrats want to cap the number of unauthorized immigrants that ICE can detain at any given time. But the proposed cap — 16,500 — matches the level of detentions inside the United States in recent years. By capping the number, Democrats want ICE to focus on violent illegal immigrants, not waste resources arresting a mother in San Diego in front of her family or holding parents separated from their children.
So the Democratic ask isn’t for protection for “violent offenders." And it is also quite small. Besides, why wouldn’t Democrats ask for something? Republicans are asking for money for a border wall and in exchange they will not shut the government down ... again. Voters gave Democrats the House last fall — it seems only reasonable that they would want something to show for it.
The truth is, three weeks after the last shutdown ended, the White House and the GOP still have no idea how to get out of the corner they’ve worked themselves into. They promised the base a “border wall,” but they have even less leverage now than they did when the first shutdown started. So they’ve returned to the first page of the playbook: scaremongering about violent immigrants.
Of course, we all saw how well fanning fears over immigration worked for the president and his party during the last shutdown, not to mention during last fall’s midterms. If anything, one wonders whether spinning the bed issue will make any deal harder for the GOP base to swallow. What was once a nonissue becomes, in the base’s mind, another cave.
The last government shutdown led to some political pain for Republicans. But it brought far more real-life pain for hundreds of thousands of government employees and contractors. Let’s hope that, whatever the decision, Republicans stop the spin and come to their senses quickly this time.