By providing President Trump with constant warnings and some pointless busy work, White House staffers were able to keep him from derailing the Republicans’ negotiation tactics during the three-day government shutdown. But Trump still seemed eager to show off the skills his ghostwriter concocted for The Art of the Deal, and sure enough, on Wednesday he jumped back into immigration talks.
As a senior administration official met with reporters to preview the White House’s legislative outline for immigration, which is set to be released on Monday, the president popped in to reveal that he’s now open to a pathway to citizenship for the young undocumented immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“We’re going to morph into it,” Trump said of citizenship. “It’s going to happen — over a period of 10 to 12 years. If somebody’s done a great job and worked hard, it keeps the incentive to do a great job. … I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive, after a period of years, of being able to become a citizen.”
Trump made it clear that his support for a path to citizenship hinges on securing $25 billion for his southern border wall — though he said he would build it “way under budget” — and $5 billion for other border-security measures. He said he also wants to end the visa lottery system and implement a “negotiated” change to chain migration.
DACA has been the central issue in the fight over government spending because Trump announced in September that he would end the program on March 5. The Supreme Court is set to rule on whether Trump can actually do that, but on Wednesday he suggested once again that he might just extend the deadline.
As for the roughly 700,000 DACA recipients who are living in limbo, Trump said, “Tell them not to worry about it. We’re going to solve the problem. Now, it’s up to the Democrats, but they should not be concerned.”
Then Trump left the meeting and headed off to Davos for the next few days.
Senators hailed this as a potential breakthrough in bipartisan immigration negotiations. Democrat Dick Durbin said, “The president is headed in the right direction here.” Republican Lindsey Graham agreed.
“President Trump’s support for a pathway to citizenship will help us get strong border security measures as we work to modernize a broken immigration system,” Graham said. “With this strong statement I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration.”
Meanwhile, Breitbart was newly appalled at “Amnesty Don”:
But it’s hard to see why Trump’s remarks would spark much excitement or alarm. The Durbin-Graham deal Trump expressed interest in earlier this month, only to suddenly reject it, involved a 10-to-12-year path to citizenship for Dreamers and $1.6 billion for the wall. Graham claimed that at a different meeting, Trump scoffed at an $18 billion border-security spending proposal put together by his own staff, saying, “I could do it for less.” Hours before the shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly offered Trump a DACA deal that involved $25 billion in border-wall funding. Schumer later rescinded the offer, saying, “The president rejected that broader deal, so the offer is off the table.”
Even before the current round of negotiations, Trump was wildly inconsistent about everything involving DACA, from when he might terminate it to whether it’s illegal. And he’s simply wrong about DACA recipients having nothing to worry about until March 5: The renewal process takes time and thousands are already losing their protections.
Less than a week ago, Schumer said working with Trump is “like negotiating with Jell-O,” and Graham suggested it doesn’t matter what he says because his staff keeps contradicting him.
“[Trump’s] heart is right on this issue; I think he’s got a good understanding of what will sell, and every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members,” Graham said. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He’s been an outlier for years.”
Sure enough, the New York Times reports that Trump’s embrace of a path to citizenship left White House staffers “scrambling in what one official called a ‘fire drill.’” A day earlier, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had proclaimed the Graham-Durbin bill “dead on arrival,” and said the president was interested in a bill from House conservatives that does not offer a path to citizenship for Dreamers.
On Wednesday evening, senators who attended a bipartisan immigration meeting told Roll Call that they have no idea of what might be in the White House’s forthcoming legislative proposal.
Senate negotiators can wait to see what policies Trump — or maybe Stephen Miller — support tomorrow, or they can try a different approach: pass legislation, then see if the president is really willing to torpedo it.
“I think our goal should be to get 70 votes in the Senate, and we’re more likely to get the president’s signature if we have that kind of broad support,” Republican Senator Lamar Alexander told the Daily Beast. “And the House is more likely to support it if the president supports it. So we’ll have to wait and see what gets 70 votes.”