Today, President Trump met with leaders of both parties from the Senate and House to discuss DACA legislation. The press and the cameras were there for the opening statements with the understanding they would be excused shortly thereafter.
However, Trump either decided to let them stay or forgot to kick them out. (I believe he let them stay because he wanted Americans to see him conduct a meeting in “presidential” fashion using Democrats, in essence, as props). Thus, almost an hour of the meeting was captured on video.
Below is my distillation of what occurred. You can watch the meeting here, and I encourage you to do so. As Yuval Levin says, it was “pretty extraordinary and is well worth watching if you like politics and policy” and are interested in seeing first hand “the strengths and the weaknesses of Trump’s very unusual way of being president.”
The Democrats, as always, had a single, fixed position. They want the DACA population to get amnesty.
They want this “clean DACA fix” by the March deadline President Trump imposed when he revoked President Obama’s DACA order. After that, they want to do comprehensive immigration reform, which means amnesty and path to citizenship for the vast majority of illegal immigrants not encompassed by the DACA “fix.”
Republicans, as usual, were not of one mind. However, the core Republican position was that, by the March deadline, there should be a DACA fix, plus border security measures (including funding for a wall), plus an end to chain migration, plus an end to the visa lottery.
Rep. Goodlatte is proposing legislation that embodies this position. It includes amnesty, but only for the DACA population of around 700,000. It also includes ending chain migration, ending the visa lottery, and mandating E-Verify. It’s the best DACA legislation we can hope for.
President Trump’s stated position at the outset of the meeting also embodied the core Republican position as I have stated it above. However, his position seemed to fluctuate as the meeting went on and Democrats like Sen. Durbin and Rep. Hoyer tried to sweet talk him while Republicans like Sen. Perdue and Rep. McCarthy tried rather frantically to pull him back. I believe the seeming fluctuation was due to Trump’s imprecise way of stating things, coupled with his desire to sound conciliatory. (A glimpse of the real Trump comes near the end when he spars with Rep. Cuellar.
At the end of the meeting, though, Trump said very clearly that there can’t be a DACA fix without the wall (though he noted that, thanks to geography, the wall need not cover every mile of the border). He did not reiterate that there has to be an end to chain migration and the visa lottery.
My sense is that he has in mind a compromise — in the DACA fix, he gives up the end to chain migration and the visa lottery but the Democrats give him funding for the wall. He then tries to end chain migration and the visa lottery as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
But Trump also said several times that he was willing to sign whatever “the very smart people in this room” send him. This suggests that if Republicans cave and just send him a “clean DACA fix,” he will sign it. Again, though, Trump said today that he won’t.
Trump is probably confident that Republicans won’t cave on the wall. But will the Democrats? If neither side caves, there will be no DACA bill for Trump to sign.
In the end, therefore, I agree with Yuval Levin that “absolutely no progress whatsoever was made in any direction.” Considering the direction Democrats were trying to take this meeting, seemingly with the prospect of success at times, that’a a good thing.