On the day that Donald Trump ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), he called on Congress to pass a legislative replacement for the Executive-branch program — one that would protect its 700,000 (former) beneficiaries from deportation. The president went on to suggest that if Congress failed to protect those Dreamers, he would “revisit the issue,” and, ostensibly, protect them himself.
Four months later, a bipartisan group of senators announced that they’d reached consensus on a DACA replacement bill: Even though the president and GOP leadership had claimed to support legal status for Dreamers as an end in itself (and thus should have been prepared to support legislation that does nothing but that), Democrats nonetheless agreed to back a Dream Act that includes funding for Trump’s border wall, limits on the ability of legal U.S. residents to sponsor their adult children for immigration, and a reduction in diversity visas — provisions championed by Republicans and loathed by the progressive base.
On Thursday afternoon, Republican senators went to tell Trump the good news. The president then told them the bad news:
The Trump administration rejected a bipartisan Senate proposal to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation, saying it needed more work.
“We’re pleased that bipartisan members are talking,” President Donald Trump’s congressional liaison Marc Short said Thursday, but added, “I think there’s still a ways to go.”
… Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn, who isn’t part of the group, said he spoke with Trump and the president told him the negotiators need to get wider approval of the plan before moving ahead.
Immigration hardliner Senator Tom Cotton, a Trump ally, called the proposal “a joke” after the White House meeting, saying it didn’t go far enough in particular to end immigration family preferences.
To be clear: This bill almost certainly does not “need to get wider approval” to pass. With Trump’s support, there should be more than enough Democratic and moderate Republican votes to get a Dream Act to his desk (even if some House progressives and conservatives buck their respective leaders).
Rather, the president appears to expect legislators to come up with a DACA deal that can both win enough Democratic support to pass the Senate and make all of his far-right friends happy. Trump has said repeatedly that he wants a bipartisan immigration deal. Earlier this week, he suggested that he would sign any immigration bill that made it to his desk. And yet, as Vox’s Dara Lind notes, every time congressional leaders have asked the administration what it needs to see in a DACA bill, the White House has produced a list of demands too extreme for many Republican senators:
In December, the Senate’s bipartisan working group asked White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to tell them what the administration would need in a DACA deal for the president to sign it.
Late last week, they ostensibly got their reply: The White House sent the exact same document it had released in October, outlining an immigration “framework” that posited an overhaul of asylum laws, stepped-up interior enforcement, and a broad crackdown on legal immigration on the scale of the Trump-endorsed RAISE Act. Alongside it was a document outlining a “vision” for Trump’s border wall: 700 miles, at a cost of $18 billion.
Of course, the entire reason the senators asked Kelly for the White House’s demands in December was that they hadn’t taken the October wish list seriously. So the White House was essentially — as Breitbart correctly pointed out — thumbing its nose at the idea of a bipartisan DACA deal.
Eventually, Trump is going to need to decide how he actually feels about protecting Dreamers: Is it the urgent necessity that he called on Congress to pass, or an odious concession that is only acceptable when paired with a restrictionist revolution in American immigration policy?
If it’s the former, he’s going to have to disappoint Tom Cotton; if the latter, he’ll need to tell 700,000 people who grew up in the United States, lived by its laws, and contributed to its prosperity that this isn’t their country anymore.