Conservatives fear Trump will cut immigration deal
Conservatives are growing worried that President Trump and GOP leaders will strike a slimmed-down immigration deal during the lame-duck session if Democrats win back the House in November.
Republicans fear that Trump, who relishes in the role of dealmaker, will be eager to provide protections for hundreds of thousands so-called Dreamers in exchange for a $25 billion border wall, and that he might do so without getting any other concessions from Democrats if he thinks it’s his last chance to secure funding for the wall.
But a potential agreement over the hot-button issue of immigration fell apart in June, and it’s highly unlikely that immigration hard-liners like White House senior adviser Stephen Miller would back legislation that trades Dreamers for the wall.
Still, as conservatives start to grapple with the possibility of life as the minority party next year, they are sending up flares about the possibility of a wall-for-Dreamers deal and warning it could backfire with the GOP base.
“Personally, I would oppose that deal, but it would not surprise me to see some kind of wall, DACA deal,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “It’s hard for me to imagine that would play well with the base.”
A GOP aide said one concern is that retiring lawmakers may make a deal on immigration.
“If we lose the House, the temptation from a lot of retiring members will be to buy the wall with an amnesty giveaway, and we cannot let that happen,” the aide said. “The reason the American people want a wall is precisely because they want to stop illegal immigration, not encourage it.”
Further stoking GOP fears is the fact that some Republican lawmakers are already starting to float the idea of an immigration deal that only funds the wall and provides legal protections for recipients of DACA, which protects from deportation young immigrants, dubbed Dreamers, who came to the country illegally as children.
Trump announced last year he was ending DACA, though courts have temporarily blocked the president from rescinding the Obama-era program while cases work their way through the legal system.
“I’d like to do a deal: Full wall funding for DACA,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill, told Fox News on Tuesday.
When pressed on whether cuts to legal immigration should also be addressed in an agreement, Graham pushed back.
“Keep it simple,” he said.
The White House has been making new overtures to Democrats about working together next year on some of Trump’s core campaign promises, such as infrastructure and drug pricing, a change in tactics that could prove necessary to secure major legislative victories if Republicans lose their majority in the House during the midterm elections.
Building the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is a campaign promise Trump has been itching to fulfill, but Congress has thus far failed to deliver the $25 billion the president is seeking for its construction. Two Republican-backed immigration bills that included wall funding failed to pass the House this summer.
The White House outlined four pillars that they say any immigration framework should include: enhanced border security, including a border wall; a permanent solution for DACA; new limits on family migration and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery program.
But some immigration hard-liners worry that Trump, who has wavered on some of his immigration positions in the past, will be willing to nix some of those pillars if it means getting full funding for his wall, especially if Democrats are poised to take over the House for the next two years.
“[The wall] is the biggest symbol of Trump. It’s something he really, really wants,” said Chris Chmielenski, deputy director for NumbersUSA, a group that supports reducing immigration. “And that’s our biggest fear, is that he’s going to give up amnesty to get a border wall.”
“He could lose some support from Trump die-hards over that,” Chmielenski added.
Congress is gearing up for a lame-duck showdown over the wall, with government funding expiring on Dec. 7 for the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the border.
House GOP leaders have indicated they are willing to go to the mat for the issue, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tamped down talk of a government shutdown over the wall.
“We haven’t talked about shutting down the government, we have talked about getting the wall funding for a year,” McConnell told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. “The Speaker and I both want to achieve that.”
One way to secure wall funding without shutting down the government is to strike an immigration deal with Democrats. While such an agreement has remained elusive, it could be an easier lift in the lame-duck session when lawmakers no longer have the pressure of an election looming over them.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week opened the door to a possible deal by saying Democrats are not opposed to strengthening the U.S. border.
“We Democrats believe in strong border security,” he said, noting that the Senate immigration reform bill backed by Democrats in 2013 included billions of dollars for border security. “We’re going to keep fighting for the strongest, toughest border security.”
Still, some are dubious that an immigration deal is possible. Democrats will be reluctant to hand Trump a major victory before 2020, while the passage of a DACA-for-wall bill would spark fierce backlash among conservatives and immigration hard-liners.
House Republicans will also be watching closely to see how Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is vying to succeed retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as the top House Republican, handles the border wall fight.
“If Ryan feels like something is going to hurt McCarthy, then he may be content with just passing another [continuing resolution], especially if Republicans are able to hang on to the House and kick this issue to the next Congress,” Chmielenski said.
On the flip side, if the GOP loses control of the House, Ryan may want to clear the decks for his successor, Chmielenski added.
“You could see him pushing hard and pressing for an immigration bill that gets more Democrats to get to 218,” he said, referring to the number of votes needed to pass legislation in the House.
Even if Trump and Congress agree to address only those two pillars, they would still need to resolve major sticking points, like how much of the DACA population would be covered and whether they should be provided a path to citizenship.
However, it’s possible that a ruling on DACA may come down from a federal judge in Texas before the end of the year, which could put more pressure on Congress to take action. If the courts ultimately side with the administration, Democrats may be the ones eager to strike an immigration deal with Republicans.
“The day [Trump] wins in court, what are we going to do with these young people?” Graham asked.
Jordan Fabian, Mike Lillis and Alexander Bolton contributed