Paul Ryan (Reportedly) Plans to Let Democrats Save DACA for Him

Ryan. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Paul Ryan has long planned to let Democrats keep the government running this December. Now, the House speaker (reportedly) intends to let them spare 800,000 American-raised undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation while they’re at it.

As the HuffPost reports:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) privately conceded to a group of House conservatives on Tuesday that he plans to include a legislative fix for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children in a year-end spending deal.

Asked if he envisioned a December omnibus spending bill including Cost Sharing Reductions for Obamacare or some sort of solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Ryan told leaders of the Republican Study Committee that he didn’t believe CSR payments would be part of the deal with Democrats, but that DACA would.

Last month, Donald Trump ended the Obama administration’s DACA program, which provided undocumented immigrants who’d been brought to the U.S. as children with the opportunity to apply for two-year work permits. But the president evinced ambivalence about his decision from the moment he made it. Trump’s executive order kept the program in place for six months, so as to allow Congress the opportunity to give DACA recipients legislative protection from deportation. And shortly after signing the order, the president called on Congress to do just that — while suggesting that if they didn’t, he might reinstate the Obama-era program that his administration had just declared a threat to rule of law in the United States. Weeks later, Trump appeared to reach a “deal” with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer over the parameters of a DREAM Act. Then, spooked by the prospect of upsetting his nativist base, Trump backed off that agreement and demanded a laundry list of radical immigration reforms as a precondition for granting Dreamers legal status.

Trump’s party has struggled with a similar ambivalence. Abruptly stripping legal status from nearly 1 million culturally American, gainfully employed immigrants — who never chose to enter the country illegally — is profoundly unpopular. It would also be profoundly disruptive: This is a large, well-organized group of people with deep ties to American communities, churches, schools, and corporations. They are not going to accept the perpetual threat of exile lying down, and neither will their powerful allies. If congressional Republicans don’t act, the controversy and mass protests will dog their party for much of next year.

But if they do act, Steve Bannon will paint a bull’s-eye on their backs. Republicans have lost primary elections for far less serious heresies against the party’s nativist wing. And with the fate of Trump’s tax plan uncertain, few House Republicans relish the thought of entering a 2018 primary with no major legislative accomplishments to their name — save amnesty for “illegals.”

In this context, Ryan’s (apparent) solution makes a good deal of sense. In order to keep the government running, the speaker already needed to pass legislation with Democratic votes this December. This is because many House conservatives will not vote to fund the government unless they’re allowed to simultaneously take food and shelter away from the poor, and Medicare benefits from the elderly – measures that would be unlikely to secure 50 votes in the Senate, let alone the 60 required for spending bills. Thus, tacking protections for dreamers onto the spending bill allows Freedom Caucus members to cast their purity votes, rail against the traitorous leadership, and avoid facing any political blowback from of their cruel and unpopular policy preferences.

Still, there is one downside to this gambit for Ryan: There are likely some House Republicans who’d be willing to vote for a spending bill, but not for “amnesty.” If so, the speaker will be even more reliant on Democrats to prevent his party from shuttering the government. And that might just give Nancy Pelosi the leverage to get Obamacare’s cost-sharing reductions restored.

Paul Ryan Plans to Let Democrats Save DACA for Him