President Trump could be on the brink of delivering his first presidential veto for Christmas.
The White House came out firmly against a plan earlier this month to fold a legislative fix for undocumented youth into Congress’ year-end appropriations bill, arguing that there is plenty time left for lawmakers to devise a solution before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program expires in March.
Trump then doubled down last Tuesday, after congressional Democratic leaders ditched a White House meeting at which they had planned to discuss a spending deal with the president and their Republican counterparts.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., plan to continue pushing for a DACA fix in the upcoming spending bill, knowing that Senate Republicans will need the votes of at least eight Democrats to ensure its passage. If no deal is reached by the time a temporary spending measure expires on Dec. 8, both parties will face a government shutdown.
“Schumer and Pelosi have repeatedly made clear they oppose government spending bills with riders attached. Now, [they] are threatening to shut down the government if they don’t get open borders amnesty with a funding bill,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday.
A Republican close to the White House said congressional GOP leaders have told Trump they also want a spending bill that excludes immigration riders, but the president isn’t fully convinced that they won’t move to reach an eleventh-hour agreement if a government shutdown looks probable.
One Senate Republican aide disputed that claim, suggesting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is strongly opposed to saving the Obama-era immigration program next month rather than waiting until 2018 to develop a legislative remedy.
“Leadership seems pretty committed to keeping DACA out of any year-end spending bills, and their best ally so far has been the Democrats,” the aide said. “The Democratic ask has been so unreasonable, and they have offered absolutely nothing tangible on the reduction side in exchange, that is very hard for pro-amnesty Republicans to make their case.”
Trump sent a list to Congress in October, demanding the inclusion of robust border security measures and changes to legal immigration in any bill that aims to save DACA.
"The President has made clear any legislative action on DACA must be paired with border security including the wall, interior enforcement, and ending chain migration,” Gidley said.
After the president met with McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday, a White House aide told the Washington Examiner that “nothing has changed since we put out [those] immigration priorities.”
But West Wing aides declined to say if Trump would issue his first veto if Republicans strike a deal with Democrats and grant protections to unauthorized immigrants in the year-end spending bill – something Schumer has predicted would never happen.
“We’re not going to get into hypotheticals,” Gidley said, adding that Democrats have behaved recklessly by threatening to oppose spending legislation that could include a cap-busting defense measure, at a time when tensions with North Korea are particularly ripe.
“With the threats we face from North Korea and ISIS, now is not the time for Democrats to hold military funding hostage,” Gidley said.
Senate Republicans have lined up behind Trump, inviting their Democratic colleagues to participate in a game of chicken over the upcoming funding bill. A group of GOP senators led by Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have been working behind the scenes on independent legislation that would provide a solution for so-called Dreamers, who will no longer be shielded from deportation once DACA expires, and boost security along the southwest border.
“Chairman Grassley and the Senate DACA working group have all agreed that any legislation addressing DACA should not be tied to an end of the year funding bill,” committee spokesman Taylor Foy told the Washington Examiner.
“Instead, it should be considered as a separate measure, without an artificial December deadline, so the Senate can develop an equitable policy that protects DACA recipients, discourages illegal immigration and ensures our nation’s immigration laws serve the interest of the American people.”
Some have already foreshadowed what might happen if Trump, who struck a fiscal deal with Democrats in early September, winds up endorsing another deal that fails to fulfill the promises he made on the campaign trail.
“I’ve worked for 30 years to restore the respect for the rule of law, especially with regard to immigration and we were on the cusp of doing that until the Trump announcement the other day on DACA,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told reporters after Trump told Pelosi earlier this fall that he would be open to a bipartisan immigration deal.
“It looks to me like things are going downhill pretty fast, and we’d better put it back together, or the Republicans will be done in 2018 and 2020,” King had said.