Democrats are now in a tough spot.
Their policy of saying “No!” to President Trump has reached its limit.
The political reality of Mr. Trump announcing he would rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for younger illegal immigrants, with a six-month phaseout to give Congress a chance to act, forces Democrats to make an inconvenient choice: resist or work with the president to protect 800,000 DACA recipients.
Do Democrats want a solution, or do they want an issue?
The party’s base has demanded that all elected Democrats “resist” Mr. Trump, no matter the issue.
This has been true on judicial nominees, infrastructure and tax reform (although North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp signaled this week that she will work with the White House on this issue).
Democrats believe resisting working with Mr. Trump is both morally right and politically useful. They believe Republicans benefited at the polls by refusing to work with President Obama on most issues over the past eight years.
But that strategy was beneficial to the GOP because Mr. Obama’s core views were outside the mainstream and the results of his failed policies were obvious to most voters. Had Mr. Obama been successful, Donald Trump could never have won the White House — not even against a flawed candidate like Hillary Clinton.
We arrived at this political moment because in June 2012, five months before he faced re-election, Mr. Obama announced the DACA program, undercutting a bipartisan legislative effort to protect the so-called “Dreamers.” Mr. Obama ignored the Hispanic community and the immigration issue throughout his first term, including for the first 13 months when Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate and control of the House.
Here are three things much of the media coverage of DACA has missed:
First, in 2011, at a town hall meeting, Mr. Obama explicitly conceded that a DACA-style program would be unlawful, saying: “There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.” He knew DACA was unlawful all along. But he also knew it would take several years for legal challenges to work their way through the system.
Second, Mr. Obama called DACA a “temporary stopgap measure” when approving it in June 2012. Now Democrats pretend that DACA is permanent, and changing it is unfair, mean-spirited and un-American.
Third, the Trump administration was forced to decide by Sept. 5 on DACA by a lawsuit threat made by 11 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. This mattered because the Trump administration would have to defend the program in court, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions concluded that his Justice Department could not defend an “unconstitutional” program. The sister program for DACA, which was called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), was already struck down by the courts. And the DACA case was before the same federal judge.
This brings us to today.
Democrats have until March 5, the end of the grace period for DACA recipients, to act. Will they come to the table and in good faith negotiate with congressional Republicans and the Trump White House on a deal that both sides can call a victory?
The contours of such a deal are visible to anyone who looks.
The president wants a down payment for his Mexico border wall. Democrats sharply disagree, but perhaps Congress could limit the barrier to specific urban areas where the additional border security is especially needed. Republicans also want a nationwide E-Verify immigration-check system to make it easier for employers to know if they are hiring an illegal immigrant.
Democrats can secure permanent protections for the 800,000 DACA recipients, along the lines of Dreamer legislation that has won significant Democratic support in the past. It’s a win-win.
Can Congress come together, with a deadline forcing them to do so, at a time when even modest legislative action appears impossible?
Hope springs eternal.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” is produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on the web at MackOnPolitics.com.
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