President Trump has brought Ann Coulter and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., together on immigration.
Unfortunately, they are united in anger at him.
“The people who do not realize Tuesday was the lowest moment of the Trump presidency have no idea what they're talking about,” the conservative Coulter wrote in her syndicated column. She argued that the headlines for the president’s bipartisan meeting about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program should have been that Trump offered “the same failed amnesty deal we had 30 years ago.” (The original was in all caps.)
Coulter is the author of two books relevant to the DACA debate: one boosting Trump as the presidential candidate who was toughest on immigration, another that has been credited with making the president a consistent immigration hawk in the first place.
Surely, Gutierrez must have been delighted. He has argued for giving legal status to most illegal immigrants in the United States throughout his time in Congress. Instead he was outraged. “Be clear, we know what you’re going to say to your base voters: ‘We stopped the Africans from coming, we stopped those Chinese and those Latinos and those Indians from bringing in their chain migration and we’re keeping America safer,’” Gutierrez said after the White House meeting.
When asked by MSNBC if he would accept the concessions asked for by the White House in a bill to codify the DACA deportation protections for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children, Gutierrez replied, “I don’t negotiate with hostage-takers.”
Immigration hawks are dispirited by Trump’s performance Tuesday, while members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are protesting Congress’ failure to immediately take up the Dream Act, which they would like to see linked to a must-pass government funding bill.
Some of the reporting out of that meeting exaggerated the importance of Trump’s stray reference to supporting a “clean” DACA fix. It was clear in the context of the whole event that he was continuing to press for border security including wall funding, changes to family-based immigration, and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery. It was also evident that the televised portion of the meeting was designed to project reasonableness, civility, and bipartisanship.
The Trump administration pushed back on this Wednesday. “No,” the president replied when the Washington Examiner asked him if he would sign an immigration bill that didn’t include the wall. He later tweeted out the exchange.
The United States needs the security of the Wall on the Southern Border, which must be part of any DACA approval. The safety and security of our country is #1! pic.twitter.com/4CFzQXb5aS— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2018
“Make no mistake,” Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News Wednesday night. “There will be no DACA deal without funding for the wall and securing our border.”
But it is undeniably true that Trump has to some extent vacillated between signaling he won’t stand in the way of any DACA fix that can clear Congress and making demands about the wall, chain migration, and the visa lottery. How much of this reflects his bargaining posture, a thin grasp of the policy details, or just a basic tension between his nationalism and self-image as a negotiator is unclear.
Trump also did not appear to know the difference between DACA, with about 800,000 beneficiaries, and the Dream Act, which as written affects a much larger population of people. He also suggested he might be open to comprehensive immigration reform of the type his core supporters have previously described as amnesty. His red lines for a bill he would veto do seem to be in flux, although the White House praised a specific "bill of love" Wednesday night that ""secures the border, ends chain migration, cancels the visa lottery, and addresses the status of the DACA population in a responsible fashion," according to a statement.
Lawmakers aligned with the Trump administration’s stated immigration policy preferences are trying to reinforce the president’s position by setting parameters. “With the President’s guidance, this diverse group agreed to four key items,” Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; and David Perdue, R-Ga., said in a joint statement Wednesday. “The current negotiations will focus on a solution to the DACA situation, increased border security, ending chain migration, and eliminating the outdated Diversity Visa Lottery.
“We feel it’s important to recognize that border security is more than just infrastructure,” they added. “Enforcement authorities must be improved so that federal law officers can protect law abiding American citizens and immigrants. Ultimately, these things must be addressed simultaneously in order to solve the underlying problem from reoccurring in the future.”
These conservatives are willing to give amnesty to DACA beneficiaries in exchange for countermeasures they believe will reduce incentives for future illegal immigration. But will they push too far for Democrats to vote for a bill? And even if they succeed, will rank-and-file immigration hawks — who share the president’s general belief that there is something profoundly wrong with the current system but lack the detailed policy framework on the issue of a Stephen Miller or Attorney General Jeff Sessions — even recognize it as a success?
"Just, relax and let's let it all play out," Trump assured the Washington Examiner last year. "Because I think everyone's going to be happy in the end."
We seem far from that pleasant outcome right now.
“I think we're going to come up with an answer,” Trump said Tuesday. “I hope we're going to come up with an answer for DACA, and then we go further than that later on down the road.”
In the meantime, Trump faces roadblocks on the Left and Right he doesn’t appear to notice.