The case for ignoring the president
© Getty

In recent immigration negotiations, senators in both parties have taken their cues from Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE

Senators have reached several bipartisan accords for Dreamers living in limbo, only to have Trump say he would not sign them.  The legislators' response: to go back to the drawing board and try to find a solution he will support. 


In showing deference to Trump on how to solve a crisis he created, the senators have erred. After taking four immigration votes that all fell short last week, they should reconsider their strategy. Progress would be much more likely to succeed if they chose another route: ignoring the president entirely.

Under normal circumstances, it makes sense for legislators to take the president’s temperature on legislation for which they will ultimately require his signature. But these are not normal circumstances.

First, Trump has made clear that he intends to sabotage negotiations. He decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September to appease his base. These voters vehemently oppose a DACA fix; they want to see Dreamers deported. Trump has further placated the nationalists by granting Stephen Miller, their leading voice within the administration, a central role in negotiations. Since then, even fellow Republicans have complained that Miller has been the biggest obstacle to compromise. 

Trump and Miller have moved the goalposts repeatedly. Initially, Trump’s price of a solution for Dreamers was money for border security. Then, when Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump, Dems open drug price talks | FDA warns against infusing young people's blood | Facebook under scrutiny over health data | Harris says Medicare for all isn't socialism Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Steve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote MORE (D-Calif.) appeared to make a deal with him on these terms, Trump reneged. Then he released so-called “immigration principles”—an 18-point laundry list of restrictionist proposals with no chance of passing Congress. Trump then rejected another bipartisan deal, before insisted on “four pillars”—not only a solution for Dreamers and expanded border funding, but also an overhaul of the family-based immigration system and ending the diversity lottery.

Make no mistake: the White House is negotiating in bad faith.

Second, a veto threat is not an actual veto. Trump is famous for his bluster. To be sure, he enjoys an enormous microphone, and it’s understandable that Republicans and some Democrats are afraid of him pointing his tweets in their direction. But, in this legislative debate, Trump’s bark is worse than his bite. Should Congress pass a bipartisan solution to the DACA crisis, it would be difficult for Trump to veto it. If he did, he would make it clearer than ever that he alone bears responsibility for the plight of the Dreamers, for whom he claims to “have great love.”

Third, Trump is deeply unpopular, currently holding the lowest approval rating (roughly 40 percent) of any modern president at this point of his first term. And there’s the very real possibility of new developments in the Mueller investigation making Trump totally radioactive—and possibly even forcing his resignation. As we approach the mid-term elections, Democrats have every reason to demonstrate the contrast between themselves and Trump. Moderate Republicans should also realize that running with Trump in November is not a winning strategy. Instead, legislators of both parties should demonstrate their independence from him and dare him to reject their proposal.

No matter Trump’s unpopularity, many Republicans, like Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks MORE (Iowa) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 'Morning Joe' host quizzes Howard Schultz on price of a box of Cheerios Huawei charges escalate Trump fight with China MORE (Ark.), will continue to call for a deal that he would support. But these legislators share Trump’s nativist views. Moderate Republicans and Democrats should ignore them, too.

So far, Democrats have played their hand poorly. First, after steadfastly demanding that any budget extension deal include protections for Dreamers in January, they conceded to Republicans after less than 72 hours of a government shutdown that most of the American public blamed on Trump and the GOP. Having surrendered their maximal point of leverage, Democrats then engaged in the Senate’s week-long immigration debate on Trump’s terms. With the opportunity to introduce two proposals to the Senate floor, they failed to introduce the bipartisan Dream Act, and instead wasted one vote on a bill fashioned to meet Trump’s “four pillars,” which was roundly rejected by immigrant rights organizations for giving away too much, and which Trump rejected, anyway.

If Democrats continue to let Trump control the Senate debate, the prospects for a solution for Dreamers will only get worse. Trump and his congressional allies will continue to insert new restrictionist demands, blowing up potential deals and moving the debate further to the right. Democrats must hold their ground.

Meanwhile, moderate Republicans need to understand that Trump’s obstructionism on an issue with overwhelming public support will reflect worst on them. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle Sanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump MORE (R-Ky.) knew when, as Senate minority leader, he opted for a strategy of maximal obstructionism to President Obama: the American people will hold the president and his party responsible for stagnation. The closer we get to November without a solution for Dreamers, the worse it is for Republicans.

Trump will continue to vilify immigrants and come up with nasty nicknames for legislators who, in good faith, want to reach a solution on DACA. But legislators in both parties would do well to ignore the bully and his pulpit and instead get back to work—on their terms, not his.

-Daniel Altschuler is the Managing Director of Make the Road Action, an immigrant rights organization. On Twitter: @Altochulo @MaketheRoadAct