President Donald Trump wants billions of dollars to fund border wall construction on the southern border. Democrats want permanent protection for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the country illegally as children.
The compromise almost writes itself, but neither side seems interested in making it.
“As a Democrat, I think it’s an excellent trade-off,” said strategist Scott Ferson.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers held their first meeting Wednesday as they attempt to devise a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that will satisfy Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding while still being politically palatable to Democrats. A five-week partial government shutdown ended last week with a deal that gave Congress until Feb. 15 to cobble together a package Trump is willing to sign. If they fail, there may be another shutdown or Trump may declare a national emergency to obtain money for the wall.
All indications from both sides at this point suggest the conference committee is seeking a narrow agreement focused on various forms of border security. There has been little talk of leveraging this moment to address the 800,000 recipients of protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who have been left in limbo since Trump’s executive order ending the program was blocked in court last year.
“I saw yesterday, ‘well, what about DACA,’ I said, ‘it’s highly unlikely,’” Trump said in an interview with The Daily Caller Wednesday. “I was tougher than anybody else on that. I could see doing something for DACA but I want to find out what the Supreme Court’s gonna do first.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters this week a DACA fix is unlikely to be included in the border security compromise.
“I don’t expect that to be a part of negotiations,” Hoyer said.
Instead, House Democrats plan to pass separate legislation “in the near future” to protect DACA and Temporary Protected Status recipients that would have little chance of ever reaching the president’s desk.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been lobbying for a trade involving DACA and TPS for weeks, but the proposal has gotten little traction with colleagues in either party or the White House. Graham seemed to acknowledge defeat on Twitter Thursday.
“No funding for wall = no DACA & no TPS,” he said. “What a great place, the Congress. Mr. President, use your powers as Commander in Chief to build wall/barriers - apparently your only option.”
Politically, Ferson said making the shutdown fight about the wall makes sense for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“The optics are, not one dollar for a wall, that’s it. The president is a perfect foil for that, because now he just says she’s going to come begging for wall money,” Ferson said, referring to comments Trump made in the Oval Office Thursday.
So-called Dreamers, those who applied for the DACA program and hundreds of thousands of others who would have been eligible, have expressed mixed feelings about swapping their futures for border barriers. One Dreamer who supports Trump told Fox News Wednesday the president and Pelosi should consider the deal.
"I think, right now, what you're seeing is both of these parents going back and forth," said Hilario Yanez. "One of them is canceling the other's trip, and then the other one is not letting them come into the House. We need to put our differences to the side. I think we need to really think about the American people."
At a CNN town hall Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who is running for president in 2020, was confronted by a DACA recipient who complained her life was being used by politicians as a “bargaining chip.” In response, Harris blamed Trump for ending the program but stated she would not consider preserving it in exchange for wall money.
“I will say to you that I stand with you,” Harris said. “There are so many who do, and we should not be trading on your life for the sake of the political games that this president is playing in trying to vilify young people like you, who are doing nothing except being productive and believing in and living the American dream.”
Three federal judges have ruled the manner in which the president attempted to end DACA was erroneous. Last week, the Supreme Court declined the administration’s request to take up the case before appeals are heard in lower courts, meaning the program will likely survive until at least early 2020 at this point.
Trump has often cited the open court cases as an obstacle to an agreement, and it has drained some urgency from the debate. The outrage that greeted Trump’s executive order has largely dissipated, and the administration has been ordered to continue processing renewals until the case is resolved.
“It’s where we are, where we all sort of wring our hands over the judicial branch legislating but they’ve taken that last step here,” Ferson said.
He acknowledged some in the party may be making a political calculation that this can be a potent issue in the 2020 campaign. If the courts keep the program alive through next November, they may not need to make concessions to the Trump at all.
“It’s logical that if a Democrat wins the White House and controls the House, the Democrats can have their DACA solution,” he said.
During the shutdown, Trump put a temporary three-year extension of DACA and TPS protections on the table, publicly framing it as a compromise with Democrats. However, immigration advocates said the language of the Senate bill that included those extensions made drastic changes to the programs and to the asylum process.
"None of these changes were in the White House fact sheet that went out Saturday. None of these have been discussed. None of these are bipartisan," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, told Sinclair when the bill was introduced. "If the administration thinks this is a bill that can pass, it's not fooling anybody."
At the time, the president appeared to rule out permanent legal status for DACA recipients as part of a border security funding compromise.
“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer,” he tweeted. “It is a 3 year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else.”
Even if they were willing to make a DACA-for-wall trade, Democrats are skeptical Trump can be trusted to hold up his end after past efforts to make a broader immigration deal collapsed. Ferson noted the withering criticism Trump faced from his base just for allowing the government to reopen last week.
“[Pelosi] could compromise fairly easily. I don’t think he could compromise easily on DACA... There are a lot of Republicans who wouldn’t vote for a DACA solution,” he said.
All of this could soon be moot as Trump inches closer to declaring a national emergency at the border. He told reporters Thursday he doubts the bipartisan panel will reach an agreement anyway.
“I don’t think they’re going to make a deal,” Trump said. “If they don’t have a wall, I don’t even want to waste my time reading what they have.”