Chaos broke out last night after a dinner between President Trump and Democrat congressional leaders Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.). In the wake of Trump’s deal with Democrats on the debt ceiling, there were late-breaking reports that the three had reached an agreement to extend President Obama’s DACA program.
Fast forward a few hours to this morning and President Trump is denying almost everything. In a tweet, the president said, “No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.”
The president continued, “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.”
Then, in a third tweet, President Trump changes tacks. “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” he asks. “Really!” He continued in that vein in a fourth tweet, “They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own – brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security.”
Taken together, the tweets indicate that President Trump may not have a final agreement on an extension of DACA, but he wants one. Even though Trump ran his campaign as a hardliner on immigration, he gave several indications that he was not firmly committed to the issue.
In August 2016, three months before the election, there were reports that Trump was flip-flopping on immigration. He denied the charge, telling Fox News at the time, “We want to come up with a fair but firm process. Fair but firm.”
In December 2016, the president-elect directly addressed the “Dreamers” in his “Person of the Year” interview with Time magazine. “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he said. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The signs were there all along that President Trump would cut a deal. And there are benefits for the president if he does. Its unpopularity among Republicans notwithstanding, most Americans like DACA and don’t want to deport the Dreamers. For many people, how President Obama created the DACA program, usurping congressional legislative authority, is more of a problem that the program itself. And let’s be honest, many people don’t even care if Obama exceeded his executive authority to create the program. Recent polling shows that most Americans approve of DACA by double-digit margins. Even a third to a half of Republicans support continuing the program.
Not just any illegal immigrant is eligible for DACA. Candidates must have come to the country illegally or overstayed a visa when they were younger than 16 and have continuously resided in the United States since 2007. The must be in school, have a GED or high school diploma or have been honorably discharged from the US military. A felony or more than three misdemeanors is not allowed. Participants also had to pay $980 in initial fees and $465 for renewals, all for a program that did not give official legal status. Whatever DACA was, it was not amnesty. The prospect of prosecution and deportation was still there.
Most voters also approve of President Trump’s first deal with the Democrats. Rasmussen found that two-thirds of voters think it’s good for the country if Trump and the Democrats work together.
President Trump likely sees a DACA deal as a win-win. He can become more popular by reaching across the aisle to enact a policy that he likes anyway. From a pragmatic perspective, the Republicans have been unable to get anything done, so a pivot to the left makes sense.
Could Republicans block collaboration between Trump and the Democrats? Assuming the Democrats all vote together, in the Senate, a deal would need 13 Republican votes for cloture and three votes for passage. In the House, 23 Republican votes would be needed for a simple majority. Between Republican moderates who support DACA and Trump supporters who will follow the president’s lead, a Trump-Democrat deal would be hard to stop.
The problem with a nonideological president is that his principles and platform are not firmly grounded. If he wants to accomplish things – anything – and be popular, he won’t necessarily continue to dance with the voters who brought him to the Washington.
And what of the Trump base that voted for the Wall and deportation?
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump famously said of his base during the campaign.
His pivot on DACA may be about to put that theory to the test.
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