The “wall” becomes fence “renovation,” “amnesty” becomes “DACA,” and “Nancy and Chuck” become President Trump’s new best friends.
The world according to Donald J. Trump is a constantly shifting place, filled with tenuous alliances and mind-twisting deals that may be more or less than they appear at first glance.
In pursuing a deal with Democrats on hot-button immigration issues, Trump is challenging forces in both parties in ways that are fundamental to their identities.
Trump seems poised to shelve his signature campaign promise — the “big, beautiful wall,” which Mexico would pay for — to legalize the status of some 800,000 people brought to the United States illegally as children, known as Dreamers.
“The wall will come later,” Trump told reporters this morning, after saying that he is “fairly close” to a deal with Congress that would permanently help the Dreamers and bring “massive border security.”
Asked if he favors amnesty for the Dreamers, Trump replied, “The word is DACA,” referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The contours of the emerging understanding (deal?) were determined over Chinese food at the White House with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who are enjoying newfound status as go-to dealmakers for the Trump White House.
Democrats claim deal reached over DACA, Trump disagrees on Twitter
What President Trump has said about Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi
The fact that top congressional Republicans were sidelined speaks to the political danger for Trump in defying a large chunk of his base. He is setting aside a key campaign promise in the interest of a proposal that immigration hard-liners consider an apostasy.
“Amnesty Don,” declared a Breitbart News headline. “THE ART OF THE STEAL,” tweeted conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, who added that “amnesty” should come instead for the “American working class.”
Permanent legal residency for Dreamers was something Barack Obama was unable to achieve when he was president. It would happen over the policy objections of even Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Just nine days ago, Sessions declared that DACA had to end in part because the policy “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
On the Democrats’ side of the aisle, for all their enthusiasm, dealing with Trump carries risks for them as well. The party base has developed a muscle memory for opposition to a president who many in the party believe to be unqualified and inherently dangerous, not to mention unreliable when it comes to honoring deals.
On principle, the idea of using the Dreamers — whose cause has widespread public support, owing to their being taken to the U.S. before they were of age — as a bargaining chip for border security is offensive to some involved in the fight.
Democrats have to be prepared for the likelihood that Trump will declare that the border wall is being built, even if he’s dramatically redefining what the wall will be. In fact, that expectation — that Democrats won’t believe what Trump says about the deal and Republicans won’t believe what Democrats say about it — may be critical to making it happen.
Democrats also have to be wary of potential Trump traps. They have gained seats at the negotiating table over immigration and tax reform and are hoping to be dealt in on health care as well.
But Trump owes them no loyalty. He has consistently shown his interest is not in bipartisanship but in cutting deals that enhance his own standing. By bringing Pelosi and Schumer close, he may be boxing them in and helping himself in the process.
Pelosi and Schumer seem to have developed a new formula for dealing with him. Twice in the past week, they issued public readouts of private conversations announcing “deals” — a clear attempt at forcing a White House that’s often squirrelly on details into firm positions.
This time, they may be succeeding on policy but also in raising alarms among conservatives. Trump is famously prone to vacillation based on his inputs. He rescinded the DACA policy less than two weeks ago but today tweeted a suggestion that nobody would want to deport “good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military.”
Both parties may yet learn, again, that Trump cannot be counted on for consistency. For now, though, a significant deal on hot-button immigration issues may be close at hand — an unthinkable prospect just days ago.