Just following up on Ed’s post from earlier. There are two audiences for Trump’s immigration offer today, the broader public and congressional Democrats. As a play for public support I think it’s smart. Trump has spent the last few weeks trying to convince voters that Pelosi, not he, is the real obstacle to ending the shutdown. And that’s sort of true. Granted, it’s his eleventh-hour demand for wall money that triggered the standoff, but he’s willing to make some concessions to get it. Pelosi’s not willing to concede anything. The point of Democratic obstruction here is nothing more or less than to spite Trump by denying him the one policy win he wants above all others. Doesn’t matter if he puts DREAM on the table, doesn’t matter that the $5 billion he’s asking for is spare change in the context of total federal spending. The left won an election and their prize is getting to make Trump cry. Simple as that.
Going on national TV to put something on the table in the name of ending the shutdown is Trump’s way of underlining all of that for viewers. He’s willing to deal. He’s willing to do something for DREAMers, with whom the great majority of the public sympathizes. He’s only asking for $5 billion, far short of what he’d need to actually complete the wall. (How does he plan to finish the wall, anyway, when Democrats are quite likely to hold the House through the end of his presidency?) He’s the reasonable one here. Pelosi’s the fanatic. That’s the point of today’s speech from a theatrical standpoint. It’s a good idea. It might even stop, or slow, the erosion in his job approval numbers over the last few weeks.
But as I say, there are two audiences for today’s speech. He and Jared don’t really believe that this offer will make headway with the other audience, the Democrats in the Senate, do they?
Tell me: Which Senate Democrats do they think will vote for this? Note that the BRIDGE Act, importantly, isn’t a permanent amnesty for DACA recipients like the DREAM Act would be. It includes no path to citizenship. It’s a three-year extension of a DACA enrollee’s right to remain in the United States. Pelosi would be giving Trump a downpayment on a permanent barrier at the border in exchange for temporary relief for illegals. For years border hawks have opposed immigration compromises because that equation normally runs the opposite way — permanent amnesty in return for some border enhancements that’ll take years to build and might well be rescinded by Democrats if they win total control of government before those enhancements are finished. That’s why so many immigration restrictionists demand that new border security measures be finished before any amnesty takes effect. They don’t want to get suckered. Now here’s Trump essentially trying to sucker Democrats along the same lines Imagine if they agreed to the deal and Trump won a second term. He’d get the wall and would still be able to deport DACA recipients in three years when their BRIDGE eligibility dried up.
Lay all of that aside, though. How many centrist Democrats are left in the Senate who’d even consider compromising with Trump at a moment when the left is frantic to see him surrender unconditionally? Virtually all of the red-state Dems who might have struggled with this offer were up for reelection this past November. The ones who survived, like Joe Manchin, won’t have to worry about facing voters again until 2024, an eternity in the Trump era when political developments move at light speed. The only Dem who *might* throw POTUS a bone here purely out of self-interest is Doug Jones, who’s facing a longshot reelection bid in Alabama next year. But Jones has been stubborn since joining Congress; he hasn’t joined Trump on many big votes despite the pressure on him to pander to conservatives back home. (He voted no on Kavanaugh, remember.) I think he’s come to the conclusion, correctly, that he’s a sure loser next year no matter how he votes, in which case he might as well vote his conscience and let the electoral chips fall where they may. So Trump might not even get him.
But let’s say he does. That’s one Democratic vote. McConnell would need seven to beat a filibuster. Who are the other six? And are we absolutely sure that all 53 Republicans will vote yes, if only as a vote of confidence in Trump’s approach? I don’t know that Tom Cotton, for instance, would sign off on even a temporary amnesty. Every Republican vote that’s lost will need to be replaced by another Democratic one. And needless to say, the willingness of Dems to accept a “BRIDGE for wall” deal in isolation isn’t the same as the willingness of Dems to accept a “BRIDGE for wall” trade under the particular circumstances we now find ourselves in — Day 1,000 of a shutdown staring contest between Democratic leaders and the Republican president whom they hate. I think Jones and a few others might take a close look at a “BRIDGE for wall” swap under normal circumstances; in fact, notes Fred Bauer, five Democrats who are currently in the Senate co-sponsored the BRIDGE Act. But to lunge at Trump’s offer now would mean damaging Pelosi’s leverage and handing the media a gift-wrapped “DEMOCRATIC CIVIL WAR OVER TRUMP’S OFFER” headline. It would be a clear signal from Senate Dems that Trump is right, that he’s the sensible party in all this and Pelosi is the mindless obstructionist who doesn’t care about federal workers getting paid. The left would be irate at the betrayal. It’s unimaginable that Dems would break ranks in this climate and turn it into a “Senate Democrats versus House Democrats” storyline.
…Especially at a moment when POTUS is signaling that he’s tired of the shutdown himself. That’s the one wrinkle in today’s otherwise savvy PR stunt. He’s coming to the table and trying to jumpstart a deal to end the crisis, a hint that he’s desperate to end this before he suffers any more political damage. Why would Democrats throw him a lifeline? They’ll probably take this afternoon’s speech as a sign that it’s almost over and he’s ready to cave if they hold out just a bit longer. In fact, there’s bound to be a faction of hardcore Coulterite border hawks on right who’ll throw a fit that Trump would dangle even a temporary amnesty as a way out of this. By telling him no, Democrats will create an opening for those righty populists to beat him up for “showing weakness” or whatever by offering them BRIDGE.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I think his offer is dead in the water in the Senate. I’d be surprised if the proposal gets more than one Democratic vote and would say there’s an outside chance that it ends up with fewer than 50, let alone 60. But maybe POTUS and Kushner believe that, if nothing else, this might invite a Democratic counteroffer that can move the two sides towards a more meaningful compromise. If Jones votes no on “BRIDGE for wall” but comes back with the idea of “DREAM for wall,” what happens then? This is one way to maybe shake that scenario loose.