It is beyond dispute that Republicans can not keep their own government open without buy-in from Senate Democrats. What remains open for debate is the question of how much input Senate Democrats should therefore have over the functioning and priorities of the government. Late Friday night, Democrats drew the line here: our votes will not help fund a government that will deport immigrants brought to the country by their parents as children. Republicans rejected that demand, and the government shut down.
On Monday morning, less than three full days later, they redrew the line at a less-than-ironclad promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider legislation in the Senate that would presumably protect at least some of the Dreamer population.
This is unsatisfying in a number of ways, most obviously because the government shutdown will end without any guarantee that Congress, as opposed to just the Senate, will pass, and Donald Trump will sign, legislation that creates permanent protections for Dreamers. To the contrary, the structure of the arrangement almost guarantees that we will reach the next government spending deadline no closer than we are today to resolving the problem Trump created when he terminated the deferred action program for childhood arrivals in September.
Trump, as I argued here, is the key to all this uncertainty. If there is one person in America right now who could determine the fate of the Dreamers with the snap of his Twitter fingers, it’s Donald Trump.
But the fact of Trump’s negotiating weakness—the Jell-O-like infirmity of his positions—does not per se seal the Dreamers’ fate. Together, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate could take matters into their own hands. It is their cynicism, indifference, and fear, as much as Trump’s incompetence, that leaves Dreamers confronting the imminence of their expulsions.
It is very likely, if not certain, that a DACA fix, similar to the one Trump incinerated in the infamous “shithole countries” meeting nearly two weeks ago, would pass the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities. If McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan were seeking a solution for Dreamers in good faith, and determined to reach one before DACA fully phases out in March, there is almost no doubt they could put the issue to bed well before then.
They are instead allowing Trump’s wobbliness to mask the fact that Ryan in particular is a moral coward, who, like John Boehner before him, is allowing a hardline minority of Republican House members—a group of restrictionists that includes outright racists—to set the GOP’s immigration position for him.
When the deal that reopened the government was taking shape Monday morning, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)—whose commitment to legalizing Dreamers is sincere, but has been a perennially ineffective influencer within his party—told reporters that Democrats reasonably fear any Senate bill to protect Dreamers would go nowhere in the House. Unfortunately, he added, these concerns are “just not resolvable by the Senate.”
This is total nonsense. Important legislation is often coordinated at the leadership level in both chambers of Congress, and even with the input of the president. When McConnell says, as he did on the Senate floor Monday, that it is “my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA,” he is saying both that he reserves the right to renege on the agreement, and that even if a bipartisan bill passes the Senate, he’ll happily allow Paul Ryan let the House Freedom Caucus kill it. This allows Republicans to leave unresolved the tension between their stated sympathy for Dreamers and their well-established penchant for abusing them.
An end to the impasse over funding the government that doesn’t resolve at least one of these two basic problems—Trump’s weakness or Ryan’s cowardice—is one that leaves the immigration dynamic unchanged. It creates a process that is likely to sputter and allows Republicans to avoid taking an unambiguous position on whether the Dreamers should be allowed to stay or not.
Here is the best possible argument in favor of capitulating now, without forcing Republicans to commit one way or another to the protection or expulsion of Dreamers.
Case for the D deal: They have a much larger bipartisan group working on DACA now, think they can come up with something in interim that has more buy-in than Durbin-Graham and that rank-and-file R’s say they will pressure McConnell to follow through on.
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) January 22, 2018
Maybe this group of senators will force McConnell’s hand. Of course, with $2.00 and a bill that’s cleared the Senate, a former DACA recipient can buy a cup of coffee, as long as there are no ICE agents present. Unless Trump blesses a particular deal, Ryan will shelve it, and, without ever taking responsibility for their own views, Republicans will drive the Dreamers into the shadows once again.