The battle over keeping the government open
Durbin, Graham: Their compromise is dead.
Congressional Republican leaders were scrambling to avoid a government shutdown this week, after President Trump’s outburst about allowing immigrants from “shithole countries” appeared to extinguish hopes for a bipartisan agreement that would have included both spending and immigration. Having passed a stopgap measure in December, Congress had until midnight on Friday—after The Week went to press—to pass a bill allocating new funds to keep the government operating. With Republicans needing Democratic votes in the Senate, Democrats demanded that any spending agreement include a permanent fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era policy that exempted from deportation about 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as children. Trump dismantled DACA in September and gave Congress until March to negotiate a replacement. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) negotiated an agreement giving DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, legal status and a path to citizenship, in exchange for additional border security funding and changes to the visa system. But in a contentious White House meeting Trump rejected the proposal, reportedly asking why the U.S. should continue to accept immigrants from “shithole countries” such as Haiti. (See Controversy.)
Republican leaders decided to give up on DACA for now and instead proposed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded for 28 days. The bill contained two sweeteners: a six-year extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program and a delay in the implementation of some Affordable Care Act taxes. “With no imminent deadline on immigration,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “there is no reason why Congress should hold government funding hostage.”
What the editorials said
The Graham-Durbin proposal is—or was—a reasonable compromise, said The Washington Post. In exchange for fixing DACA, a move backed by “large majorities of Americans in both parties,” it would have provided $2.7 billion of funding for “beefed-up border security, more than half of it for Trump’s ‘beautiful’ wall.” It also would have reshaped the diversity lottery system, allocating half the program’s 55,000 visas on a merit-based system and the rest to foreign nationals living in the U.S. under temporary protected status. Alas, after initially praising the bill, Trump reversed himself after talking to anti-immigration aides and lawmakers. Our “mercurial, malleable, and malevolent” president is impeding good-faith attempts to solve a problem he himself caused.
It’s always easy to blame Trump, said the Washington Examiner, but the truth is Democrats “want an argument rather than action.” They know that in a crucial election year, immigration is “far more powerful” as a live issue “than it is as an accomplishment in the rearview mirror.” And they know that doing deals with Trump would “make his presidency more successful,” harming their hopes of a blue wave in November’s midterms. That’s why they’re “digging in their heels.”
What the columnists said
Trump’s “shithole” remark was “reprehensible,” said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. “But what the Democrats did is worse.” They knew that leaking Trump’s profanities would spark an uproar, rendering further negotiations all but impossible and leaving the Dreamers in continued limbo. But they couldn’t resist an opportunity to “publicly embarrass” the president. “All they care about is getting Donald Trump, no matter who gets hurt.”
Democrats should let Trump have his border wall, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. The president is so desperate to fulfill his “signature campaign promise” that he’ll give his opponents almost anything they want in exchange for something he can call The Wall, even if it’s mostly upgrades of the status quo. If Democrats play this right, Trump is willing to “fall into their arms.”
Trump is certainly eager to prove what a great negotiator he is, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. But he is “severely hampered by his allergy to policy detail.” On health care, infrastructure, and now immigration, he has repeatedly expressed what he wants to do—only to be “overruled” by Congress or his aides, who know he is so clueless about policy that he will accept whatever they tell him. How can you make a deal with a president “who doesn’t understand anything about the deal beyond his belief that deals are good?”
Illustration by Fred Harper. Cover photos from Getty (2), AP ■