The Newest Failure on DACA—a Bipartisan Dream Deferred
A few weeks ago, after hearing Trump’s State of the Union, I wrote a somewhat desperate, very idealistic post asking for bipartisan cooperation on some less contentious issues, like infrastructure reform. I was discouraged by Congress’ failures to act on DACA, and wanted more than anything for lawmakers to come together and actually get something done. I also hoped—albeit naively—that Trump’s call for bipartisanship in his SOTU was sincere.
This week, my bipartisan wishes almost came true. When President Trump announced back in September that he was rescinding Obama’s executive order that created DACA in the first place, he gave Congress a six-month window to pass a new law and protect immigrants living under the program. More recently, when Congress passed a temporary budget bill to re-open the government, Majority Leader McConnell promised Democrats that he’d bring DACA to the floor for debate. It’s in this context that lawmakers scrambled this week before their President’s Day recess to pass immigration legislation. And remarkably, they came pretty close.
John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) proposed a bipartisan bill which, according to Jonathan Blitzer from the New Yorker, sought to “legalize the status of Dreamers without attaching any conservative-friendly concessions such as increasing funding for border security and immigration enforcement.” The bill received 52 votes in the Senate, which wasn’t enough to clear the necessary 60 vote threshold. Congress got even closer with a measure proposed by the Common Sense Caucus, a group of moderate Senators hoping to satisfy the aims of both parties. The bill “would create a path to citizenship for Dreamers, but would also allocate twenty-five billion dollars to border security, and would prevent Dreamers from eventually sponsoring their parents for legal status.” These changes won over 2 more Senators, putting the bill just 6 votes away from passage in the Senate.
By this point, it seemed that momentum was building and that we might actually see DACA passed into law. Only a few weeks earlier, Trump had told lawmakers, “You guys are going to have to come up with a solution [for DACA], and I’m going to sign that solution,” implying that he wouldn’t veto an immigration bill that makes its way through Congress. But the President’s actions this week contradict that cooperative message. He proposed a much more partisan bill designed to cut annual immigration levels in half, and threatened to veto the more moderate proposals that were gaining consensus in the Senate. There’s a lot of speculation about why Trump has taken on a less compromising, more hardline stance. Many, including Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), blame Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller for the abrupt change. According to Graham, “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He’s been an outlier for years. . .I’ve talked with the president; his heart is right on this issue. He’s got a good understanding of what will sell. And every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members.”
Considering that 80% of the American public supports [HF5] “protecting from threat of deportation hundreds of thousands of undocumented ‘Dreamers,” it’s incredibly frustrating that a single voice in the President’s ear can have such an impact on the legislative process. If the NRA is the roadblock to enacting gun safety laws, Stephen Miller seems to be the clog on immigration reform. In the past, I’ve rationalized our vicious political polarization with some youthful idealism. Bipartisanship is the only way forward, I’d say. But this week’s events show that sometimes even bipartisanship isn’t enough. At the end of the day, the Executive Branch wields a lot of power, and a few trusty advisors can override hundreds of elected officials—and the American electorate.