Nov 12, 2017

Dems in the driver's seat on DACA

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Behind closed doors, and very quietly, lawmakers from both wings of both parties are scrambling to save DACA — a program that has protected from deportation nearly 800,000 young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

As improbable as it sounds, it currently appears that the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party has more leverage than the Stephen Miller wing of the Republican Party when it comes to DACA.

Obviously this could change. Nothing is solidified. But based on conversations with White House sources, top Hill aides from both parties, and immigration-restrictionist power-brokers, we have concluded that, at the moment, progressive Democrats hold a superior negotiating position to immigration hardliner Republicans.

This is because, on the DACA issue, President Trump has already blinked. Both publicly — in a Sep. 5 tweet, when he hinted he may reinstate DACA unilaterally if Congress can't save it — and privately, the president has indicated he doesn't have the stomach to let DACA die.

  • One conservative member of Congress, who has discussed DACA with the president, told me Trump made very clear to him he was prepared to keep the protections in place beyond March — when the program is currently set to expire — if Congress does nothing.
  • Roy Beck, an influential immigration hawk who runs NumbersUSA, said Trump's nominee for DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, further reduced the administration's leverage last week when she assured in her confirmation hearing she would protect DACA recipients. "This doesn't strike me as being from the art of negotiations book, does it?" Beck told me.

Stephen Miller, one of the White House's only immigration hardliners, is telling conservative activists that Trump will back legislation giving current DACA recipients legal status — aka amnesty — in exchange for legislation ending chain, or family, migration. And Miller doesn't want the must-pass December spending bill to include a DACA fix.

That appears to be a non-starter. Top Democratic Senate aides have told me they think it's hilarious that Miller thinks he can get this deal, and that chain migration isn't going anywhere.

Where that leaves us:

  • Congress must pass a spending bill by December 8. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats expected to run for president in 2020, including Kamala Harris, are effectively threatening to shut down the government over the issue — saying they won't vote for any spending bill unless it protects DACA recipients.
  • Democrats are confident Trump won't have the stomach to let DACA expire.
  • Democrats in leadership think this means that, despite Miller's opposition, they will be able to include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients in that must-pass spending bill.
  • In exchange, they say they may allow modest increases in border security measures. But nothing that could reasonably be described as a "big beautiful wall" along the southern border.

Just to reiterate: Everything is up in the air. But the above scenario seems the most likely outcome, since it would placate both progressives and moderate Republicans.

Bottom line: Despite the fact that Donald Trump became president running on a historically anti-immigration platform — promising to end DACA on Day One, build a wall, and slash legal immigration — it currently looks like Capitol Hill and the White House may find a solution that would make Jeb Bush proud.

Go deeper

Primary elections test impact of protests, coronavirus on voting

Election official at a polling place at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the midst of a global pandemic and national protests over the death of George Floyd, eight states and the District of Columbia held primary elections on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, needs to win 425 of the 479 delegates up for grabs in order to officially clinch the nomination. There are a number of key down-ballot races throughout the country as well, including a primary in Iowa that could determine the fate of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Iowa Rep. Steve King defeated in GOP primary

Rep. Steve King. Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

State Sen. Randy Feenstra defeated incumbent Rep. Steve King in Tuesday's Republican primary for Iowa's 4th congressional district, according to the Cook Political Report.

Why it matters: King's history of racist remarks has made him one of the most controversial politicians in the country and a pariah within the Republican Party.

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day — prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Protesters were still out en masse even as curfews set in in New York City and Washington, D.C. Large crowds kneeled at Arizona's state capitol nearly an hour before the statewide 8 p.m. curfew, and a peaceful march dispersed in Chicago ahead of the city's 9 p.m. curfew.