The battle over Dreamers and Trump’s Wall
The impasse between Republicans and Democrats over immigration will enter a new phase next week when the White House offers “a legislative framework” for a compromise that officials say will provide permanent legal status to Dreamers in exchange for “securing the border” and “ending extended-family chain migration.” Last week, the immigration battle briefly led to a government shutdown; it ended when Democrats agreed to a new temporary funding bill, in return for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s promise to address the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program within three weeks. President Trump canceled DACA, created by President Obama, back in September; it exempts from deportation 700,000 immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children. Trump gave Congress until March to decide whether to make it permanent through legislation.
Before the shutdown, Trump rejected a bipartisan compromise forged by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). It would have given legal status to Dreamers in exchange for some funding for the wall and changes to “chain migration” rules concerning immigrants’ families. Immigration hard-liners, including presidential adviser Stephen Miller, say they want $18 billion to fund the border wall, not the $1.6 billion Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week he would accept in a deal. “If there is no Wall,” Trump said in a tweet, “there is no DACA.”
The three-day shutdown—the first in history with one party controlling both Congress and the White House—began after Senate Democrats blocked a spending bill that didn’t address DACA. The Democrats’ liberal base accused Schumer of surrendering when he agreed to the stopgap funding measure, but he noted that it included a provision to fund the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. “While this procedure will not satisfy everyone,” said Schumer, “it is a way forward.”
What the editorials said
Last week’s shutdown belongs in the pantheon of “futile and stupid gestures,” said The Wall Street Journal. Negotiations to legalize Dreamers—a broadly popular move backed by both parties—were “already underway.” But Schumer wanted to please his “progressive base” by voting to shut down the government in a show of protecting the Dreamers, and so did Senate Democrats laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run. But when 10 Democratic senators running for re-election this year in states Trump won in 2016 started feeling heat for the shutdown, Schumer “bailed out and called retreat a victory.”
Democrats have “little to show for their efforts,” said the Los Angeles Times. McConnell has broken promises before—including ones made to Republican lawmakers—and there’s no guarantee House Speaker Paul Ryan will even schedule a vote on any compromise bill passed by the Senate, because of the hard-line demands of the House’s far-right Freedom Caucus. But Schumer had little leverage, and a prolonged shutdown might have poisoned the public’s support for DACA. What a pity that both sides are willing “to use the Dreamers as pawns” in a larger partisan battle.
The one positive from all this, said The Washington Post, is that the stopgap bill came because “a bipartisan group of 25 senators spent the weekend talking instead of excoriating one another.” Led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), this “broad middle” should “no longer wait for direction from a chaotic White House or spineless congressional leadership.”
What the columnists said
“Democrats lost their nerve,” said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. They had real leverage, with Trump fearing he’d have to make his State of the Union speech next week in the midst of a government shutdown. Yet rather than waiting to see if Republicans would blink, Schumer backed down—selling out a base whose “passion” and “energy” he’ll desperately need in November’s midterms. Actually, Schumer was foolish to have taken a shutdown stance in the first place, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. Holding the government hostage over a partisan policy issue is never a winning strategy. Normally “among the shrewdest operators in national politics,” the New York senator clearly “succumbed to the siren song of the anti-Trump resistance.”
Schumer is actually handling this very cannily, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. Republicans can no longer use funding for CHIP as leverage in a deal. And if a bipartisan group of senators does pass a bill, the White House will be under enormous pressure to “declare victory and call on the House Republicans to fall in line.”
It’s unfortunate Trump is so wedded to his Wall, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. Democrats are willing to partially fund it because they know “that even under the best circumstances it will take years to build a wall,” and that if they take back the House in 2018, the whole thing becomes “a white elephant.” Serious immigration restrictionists would much rather see mandatory E-verify, a program requiring employers to check on job seekers’ immigration status. If illegal immigrants can’t get jobs, they’ll stop overstaying their visas and crossing the border. E-verify would be far cheaper than any wall—and more effective.