Over the weekend, Donald Trump reached an agreement on a grand bargain to end the government shutdown — with his own vice-president and son-in-law. Alas, while this compromise succeeded in uniting the Republican Party behind a new bad-faith rationalization for holding the federal government hostage to the president’s demand for a border wall, it failed to unite Congress. On Tuesday, the Democratic leadership assailed Trump’s offer, and reiterated their call for immediately reopening the federal government at status quo funding levels, while negotiations over immigration policy continue.
In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to allow votes on two funding bills Thursday — the president’s “compromise” (which won’t get the requisite 60 votes, and wouldn’t pass Nancy Pelosi’s chamber even if it could) and a Democratic bill that would simply restore government funding through February 8 (which probably can’t get 60 votes, and which Trump probably won’t sign even if it does).
The Democrats’ opposition to Trump’s offer isn’t hard to understand. All available polling suggests that a large majority of the public understands that it was Donald Trump who forced a government shutdown (a deeply unpopular political tactic) in hopes of securing funds for his border wall (a deeply unpopular policy), and that the shutdown is, thus, making Trump a less popular president.
Meanwhile, the White House’s peace plan proved to be chock-full of poison pills. Initial reports suggested that Trump was offering Democrats $5.7 billion in exchange for a three-year extension of the DACA and TPS programs. This wouldn’t have been an easy deal for Democrats to sign off on — after all, Trump’s primary “concession” constituted a promise to refrain from needlessly subjecting 700,000 Dreamers and 300,000 TPS recipients (i.e., longtime U.S. residents who came to this country through an officially temporary program, which both parties have treated as infinitely renewable) to the threat of deportation. Effectively, the president was offering to temporarily release the immigrants and federal workers whom he’d taken hostage, in exchange for $5.7 billion in cold, dumb cash.
Nevertheless, if the deal had been as described, some Democrats might have been tempted to accept it. Securing a form of legal status for 1 million vulnerable, longtime American residents — for the likely duration of the Trump presidency — would be a significant humanitarian victory. By contrast, the border wall is a symbolically problematic pork project, which poses relatively few concrete harms to Democratic constituencies.
But Trump decided to make Nancy Pelosi’s life easy. The White House did not actually offer a clean “wall for temporary amnesty” trade. Rather, its proposal includes new caps on the number of children who can claim asylum in the United States; new income restrictions on DACA that would bar indigent immigrants from applying for the program’s protections; a 20 percent increase in ICE’s budget for detention and enforcement; and a new minimum income requirements for TPS status, among other provisions that Democrats have no interest in supporting.
The Supreme Court then made Pelosi’s job easier still, by declining to take action on lower court rulings that have barred the president from ending DACA. Now, it appears that no matter what Democrats do, DACA recipients will remain immune from deportation until at least early 2020. Which is to say: Trump’s hostages just lost much of their ransom value.
A group of House Democrats did engineer the Politico headline, “Centrist Democrats urge Pelosi to break shutdown stalemate” Tuesday. But the letter that inspired said story merely implores Pelosi to promise a vote on Trump’s border wall after the government is reopened — a proposal that is all but identical to Team Blue’s long-established position (open the government first, talk about the wall later).
All this assures that the president’s bill will go down to defeat in the Senate on Thursday, where it will need Democratic support to pass. The Democrats’ alternative legislation, meanwhile, appears likely to attract some Republican support — but not enough to overcome a 60-vote filibuster. Although McConnell has agreed to allow a vote on the measure, he is reportedly instructing his caucus to oppose it.
In sum, Democrats and Republicans have reached a compromise that will allow each side to claim that the other voted against reopening the government. But the Democrats’ remain too politically strong — and the White House, too ideologically obstinate — for the parties to reach agreement on anything more than that.