Dems, GOP Lawmakers Wary of Trump's DACA 'Deal'
The effort by Democratic leaders to emerge from the legislative wilderness and grab seats at the table with the Republican president has been rare cause for celebration -- albeit a cautious one -- within their party. It also has left Republicans feeling blindsided and in some cases frustrated by a president seeking deals at any cost.
President Trump has held a series of meetings with top Democratic leaders and bipartisan groups of lawmakers over the past two weeks, leaving allegiances on Capitol Hill somewhat scrambled. Centrists in both parties cheered the unexpected outreach, hoping to influence future negotiations from the middle. Democrats for the most part remain wary of Trump and cutting deals with someone they’ve decried for months, but they’re opening up to the prospect of working together. Republicans, for their part, still view Trump as an ally, but some members are worried that the new trend may be extending to critical issues.
“I think he’s realizing things are not moving and I think he’s going to give this a shot,” said Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, a member of a centrist group that met with Trump at the White House Wednesday. “If not, he said he’ll go back. This is a new strategy.”
The latest round of conversations came during a dinner Trump had with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on codifying protections for children of undocumented immigrants after Trump pledged to rescind DACA -- President Obama’s executive order sparing that population from deportation -- in six months. That meeting came a week after Trump cut a deal with the two Democratic leaders on fiscal matters over the objections of Republican leadership in the very same room.
Schumer and Pelosi left the dinner touting an agreement on those children, commonly referred to as Dreamers, saying that Trump backed finding a legislative fix and wouldn’t demand funding for a wall on the Mexican border – a key campaign pledge -- in exchange for a deal.
Republicans had been open to negotiating a legislative solution that involved protections for the undocumented immigrants in exchange for border security and enforcement funds. Speaker Paul Ryan met with Pelosi and other Democrats to discuss the matter just hours before the minority leader dined with Trump.
Ryan spoke with the president and his chief of staff Thursday morning and insisted later that there was no agreement yet on immigration, and that the details of border enforcement and the solution for Dreamers are uncertain for now. Ryan also made clear that any solution will require Trump working with his Republican majorities in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put out a brief statement saying that DACA would be part of a conversation about border security and interior immigration enforcement.
“We look forward to receiving the Trump administration’s legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues,” McConnell said.
For the GOP rank and file, much of the response to Trump’s supposed deal with Pelosi and Schumer was confusion. There was a clear split, however, between the hard-line anti-immigration wing and those who would prefer to work towards a solution on DACA. Rep. Steve King, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, said Trump risks alienating his key supporters.
“There’s only one thing that cracks President Trump’s base and that’s if he cracks on immigration,” King said.
Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents a swing district in Colorado and has been a strong supporter of protecting Dreamers, said Trump might be able to convince even his most conservative supporters to back such a deal.
“He’s got the credibility in terms of being tough on immigration and I think he’s the only one, probably, within the Republican Party that can solve this issue,” Coffman said.
But while such negotiations -- the details and conclusion of which are still far off -- have placed a bright spotlight on Republican divisions, Democratic leaders are also carefully mapping a path forward that doesn’t earn backlash from their own base, which has no interest in doing business with Trump.
Democratic lawmakers say they are cognizant of potential criticisms from within their party, and are cautious about dealing with someone as unpredictable as the president.
“There’s a difference between obstruction and resistance,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. He argued that Republicans obstructed Obama even where they agreed with him, but that Democrats would work with Trump if he shifts towards their priorities. Others shared that sentiment.
“I think we always need to be careful with Trump because he’s shown that he switches positions quickly and often,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez. “But having said that, I think you have to continue the discussions and the negotiations. I don’t think you get anywhere productive if you just refuse to talk about something.”
Still, some activists are concerned about Schumer and Pelosi engaging with Trump with all.
“Whenever you make a deal with the devil you always run the risk of smelling like sulfur,” Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, told RCP. “Progressives, unlike the Tea Party, are not allergic to the idea of compromise. But we believe the only compromises that are acceptable don't involve compromising our values. When you're dealing with Donald Trump, especially on issues of immigration, that is a profound risk.”
Efforts by progressive activists to recruit and mobilize voters have been predicated in large part on opposing, or “resisting” Trump. While Democrats have yet to give up anything in return for the talks, some are skeptical.
“It does kind of change the dynamics a lot,” says Angel Padilla, policy manager for the group Indivisible. “I don't have confidence that Donald Trump is someone you can trust in any negotiation, and the risk is normalizing” him and his immigration policies.
“The message we've been trying to get across [to leadership] is: ‘You need to articulate a clear strategy on how you think we can get the DREAM Act passed,” Padilla continued, arguing that activists want to see the legislation attached to a must-pass bill. “We are concerned with Democrats starting to negotiate. Once you set up that relationship you have to give something in return. So, that’s the danger.”
In her Thursday press conference, Pelosi cautioned that no deal had been made, calling it simply an “agreement to move forward.” She made clear Democrats insisted on a path to citizenship for Dreamers, though some Republicans believe that is a bridge too far for their party. Still, Pelosi and Schumer’s newfound relationship with the president has scrambled expectations for what is and what isn’t possible on immigration – and possibly other issues.
When Ryan ran for speaker in 2015, he pledged to members that he wouldn’t bring immigration legislation to the floor without support from a majority of Republicans. On Thursday, he said he would not bring a bill to the floor that didn’t have the support of Trump. Even acknowledging the power the president has on immigration, Republicans were left unsure of which direction he would ultimately take.
“Certainly the president of the United States has influence,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, a hard-line conservative who unsuccessfully ran in the Alabama Republican primary for Senate earlier this summer. “Hopefully that influence will be used for good and not bad. Time will tell.”