Even a Healthy John McCain Couldn’t Broker a Good Immigration Deal in the Trump Era

Thanks to Donald Trump, the landscape on immigration policy is far more restrictionist than any John McCain has dealt with in his long congressional career.

As Senator John McCain fights for his life against brain cancer in Arizona, he’s being missed in Washington, particularly by those of his colleagues who are struggling for a humane deal on immigration policy. Politico devotes a long piece today attesting to his missed presence:

For members of both parties, it’s almost unthinkable that Congress could assemble a deal on border security and legalizing some undocumented immigrants without McCain: He was behind two previous reform efforts in 2007 and 2013. Both fell short, but those involved say McCain gets credit for pushing the initiatives as far as they got.


“Every time I talk to him he tells me I hope we can get DACA and comprehensive immigration reform done,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), referring to the attempt to enshrine the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law. He and McCain led the so-called Gang of Eight effort five years ago. “Members on both sides miss him dearly. “

Much as senators might miss McCain at this juncture, it is not, however, at all clear that the current dynamics of immigration talks are in his accustomed wheelhouse. The deal being pushed by House Republicans, the White House, and an ever-increasing band of Senate conservatives is no longer a path to citizenship reform for all the undocumented in exchange for border-control enhancements. It’s a path to citizenship for the much smaller universe of Dreamers in exchange not only for border-control funds, but also for internal-enforcement resources and drastic changes in legal immigration policy.

Just today, McCain’s office and Democratic Senator Chris Coons released a proposal aimed at getting everyone back to a “barebones” deal to legalize Dreamers in exchange for border dollars. The White House rejected it instantly:

Sadly, this last statement is probably true. Even if the bill could get enough votes to pass the Senate, there’s no way the House — on the brink of passing a Goodlatte bill that in some respects is more restrictionist than the president’s plan — would accept it.

It’s true that McCain’s status as a big-time defense hawk might give him leverage to the extent that defense-spending levels and a prospective immigration deal have become tied together in spending negotiations. But most likely if he were around he’d have to claim whatever victory defense hawks can achieve as a consolation prize for a defeat on immigration. And this isn’t a matter of McCain’s own mortality. For the time being, the era of comprehensive immigration reform has ended.

Even a Healthy McCain Couldn’t Stop Bad Immigration Policy