President Trump is on the cusp of winning his second straight fight with the Democrats over funding the federal government and avoiding a partial shutdown.
Trump characteristically stepped on his own message by unguardedly threatening such a shutdown the day before a long-term spending deal was reached. Despite the bluster, the president has usually made the compromises necessary to keep the government open. And the administration has long championed decoupling spending and immigration, as this bipartisan, bicameral agreement largely does.
Republicans usually don’t win shutdown fights. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., capitulated last time around because Trump-state Democrats blinked. This appears to have occurred a second time, to the consternation of liberals looking to deal the president a body blow.
Can Trump now win on immigration too? Some Democrats already fear they are losing leverage against the White House. Trump terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year and gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative fix. He is now demanding a series of border security measures and new immigration restrictions in exchange for legal status for illegal immigrants brought into the U.S. as minors who would have been eligible for DACA.
“I just can’t explain to the Dreamers or my colleagues why we should be second-class members of Congress in this House without a commitment from the speaker that Mitch McConnell gave to the senators — that there would be a vote on the floor to let Congress work its will,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said during her “filibuster” Wednesday.
The complicating factor is that on immigration, Trump faces opposition on the Left and the Right. Having already gotten most (though by no means all) immigration hawks in Congress to accept some form of legal status for Dreamers — which these lawmakers regard as amnesty — up front, Trump sweetened the offer to Democrats by throwing in a path to citizenship, increasing the number of people eligible to 1.8 million and slow-walking changes to family-based “chain migration” and the diversity visa lottery.
Among the Democrats, there were few takers. Immigration hawks in the House and among outside activist groups were also unmoved. In his State of the Union address, Trump described the proposed immigration framework as a “down-the-middle compromise” where “nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”
Codifying DACA was always a bargaining chip for Trump to extract congressional support for other more controversial immigration reforms he campaigned on in 2016. Democrats blast this as a form of “hostage-taking.” But DACA itself was always vulnerable to being rescinded by a future president or invalidated by the courts, placing its beneficiaries in a precarious position.
Their status would be addressed in a more enduring way through the Trump framework, while at the same time reducing the incentives for future illegal immigration inherent in amnesty. Unlike Gang of Eight and its predecessors, it's a real deal between political actors with substantially different immigration-policy views.
That will only be the case, however, if some Democrats accede to Trump’s demands in order to preserve DACA and enough immigration hawks are convinced this is not a repeat of the usual “amnesty first, enforcement later” charade that has prevailed since 1986.
This is no easy feat. But keeping the government open also requires transcending opposition from the Left and the Right. Fiscal conservatives weep at the spending increases in the bipartisan deal while committed progressives remain unsatisfied.
In the end, we’ll see who has the votes. Maybe the spending caps deal will fall apart under the weight of all these contradictions. House Democrats seem markedly less enthusiastic, and face vastly different political incentives, than many Democratic senators. Their votes will be needed to compensate for small-government defections on the Republican side.
If the shutdown is averted and a long-term deal passes, however, you have to begin to wonder if a similar political calculus can force an improbable immigration agreement before the March 5 DACA deadline.
Since the terrain has moved from healthcare to tax cuts and immigration, Republican numbers have improved somewhat ahead of the midterm elections. And as the stock market gains Trump lauded evaporate, tight labor markets partially through immigration restrictions could yet produce wage growth for the voters who swung the presidential election to the GOP not so long ago.
In the Trump era alone, stranger things have happened. The end result could be better policy than virtually across-the-board spending hikes, too.