Originally published by The Washington Post
In the battle over protecting “dreamers” from deportation, Democrats really only have three pressure points to put on Republicans.
1. Vote to shut down the government unless they get a deal.
2. Hope that Republicans, who control the majority in both chambers of Congress, also want to protect dreamers enough to act on it.
3. Offer to fund President Trump’s border wall.
All three have faded in recent days.
No. 1 didn’t work out (although another shutdown when a funding deadline hits in a few weeks isn’t out of the question). It’s still an open question how badly Republicans want to protect dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Congressional leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) seem caught between the prospect of a largely sympathetic group of immigrants getting deported and the right flank of their party, which sees such protections as amnesty.
On No. 3 — Trump’s border wall — how much leverage Democrats actually have after the shutdown is up for debate. Before the shutdown, Senate Democratic leaders had already agreed to fund billions of it. It was an extraordinary concession for a party whose base views Trump’s wall as a symbol for everything they despise about the president. And it didn’t help get a deal.
Which could help explain why Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to take that offer back. Hours before the shutdown, Schumer said he told Trump to name his price on the wall in exchange for protecting dreamers. A day after the shutdown, he’s publicly confirming he rescinded that offer.
But the problem for Schumer is this: He had already signaled he’s open to agreeing to possibly tens of billions for the wall. (The actual number he offered isn’t pinned down.) He dangled in front of Trump one of the few things on immigration Trump has been fairly consistent about. It’s going to be difficult for Schumer to walk that back and keep both sides at the negotiating table, especially a president who doesn’t take kindly to any sort of perceived slight.
And Trump definitely seems slighted by the notion of Schumer’s take-back. Here he is late Tuesday night firing off an insult:
It’s easy to see why Schumer is nervous about approving Trump’s wall. A number of Democrats on the left think Congress shouldn’t be funding a dime of it, much less some $20 billion. “Oh, come on,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters during the shutdown of that idea. (Also, wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for it?) Even Republicans from border states have been reluctant to support a brick-and-mortar wall along most of the border.
The public is skeptical, too. A majority of Americans oppose a border wall (63 percent), according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. That includes 68 percent of independents and 86 percent of Democrats.
But none of that matters to Trump, who seems singularly focused on making good on a campaign promise that will please the people who actually voted for him. In that Post-ABC poll, 57 percent of conservatives say they support a wall and 45 percent strongly support it.
To recap: Schumer is saying there will be no wall anymore. Democrats on the left are warning if there’s a wall, there’s no deal. Trump is warning unless there’s a wall, there will be no deal.
Where do things go from here? Well, instead of inching closer to a deal, the two sides are openly accusing the other of lying.
“The president knew Schumer was mistreating him,” Office of Management and budget director Mick Mulvaney told my colleagues.
Mulvaney “once again isn’t telling the truth,” Matt House, a Schumer spokesman, fired back. “Senator Schumer offered the president everything he asked for on the border and more than he asked for on defense.”
This isn’t to say the deterioration of negotiations about dreamers can all be traced back to Schumer’s wall-no-wall 180.
Trump has consistently moved the goal posts on what he wants from an immigration deal. Days before the shutdown, his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was on Capitol Hill telling Democrats that Trump was “uninformed” when he promised his base a wall along some 2,000 miles of border. Trump privately bristledat that characterization and publicly shot down the notion that he’d compromise on a wall.
Even Republicans are openly frustrated with the president’s waffling on immigration. “One thing I would say to the White House,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN, “You better start telling us what you’re for rather than what you’re against.”
Here’s the bottom line: Both sides have reason not to trust the other. And now, as they snipe over who promised what about a wall, they have one more reason not to compromise on protecting dreamers.