Shutdown/DACA state of play: a 'mess' with a major twist
Posted January 10, 2018 8:26 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Everything we thought we knew 24 hour ago on the talks regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program may have just been scrambled. (And to be perfectly clear, clarity was not something that existed Tuesday, contrary to the positive sentiment post White House meeting.)
The reason is the district court ruling blocking the Trump administration's wind-down of the DACA program. Republicans now have a reason to push the DACA talks off -- and to underscore this idea, I've already heard from several GOP aides saying the ruling should mean Democrats should decouple from the spending bill negotiations.
Now, Democrats face the possibility of pushing the government toward a shutdown when the rationale -- and real urgency -- on the issue doesn't technically exist (more on this below.)
Here's the state of play:
To be clear...
Nobody views the court ruling as any kind of permanent solution, and as such, those who really want a DACA deal (Democrats and a segment of the Republican Party) will still push forward. As one Democratic adviser texted me when I asked if this changed the impetus to get a deal now: "No chance."
Key point here: To get this done -- something so divisive inside the Republican Party, so explosive inside the Democratic Party, there needs to be a cliff of sorts -- an extreme mechanism to force action. The spending bill is that mechanism. Period.
A huge point people are glossing over: It's a mess
But, and I can't make this clear enough, this is an absolute mess inside the Senate and House Republican conferences right now. The realistic outlines of deals being considered -- and being negotiated by the Senate working group -- would maybe get the support of half the conference in the Senate, even less in the House. That is a nightmare for leadership. As one GOP aide told me late last night: "We're nowhere close to where we need to be to actually move on something."
Hence why an "out" of sorts -- like, say, a court ruling might be attractive...
But it ain't smooth sailing on the Democratic side
You also can't overstate the pressure that's on Democratic leadership right now -- and the high-wire act Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have trying to navigate their respective caucuses on this. This is something they can't budge on anymore. The activist pressure is enormous. The internal caucus pressure is enormous. Don't expect them to back down any time soon.
While the deadline to address the DACA issue may have been set in March by the administration, DACA participants were losing their status daily as it lapsed. That, more than anything else, is why Democrats have said this has to happen now. The court ruling froze that, so the dynamic shifts a bit, but that has been an under appreciated aspect of this debate -- the "we can wait until March" position isn't one that flies with more than 10,000 DACA recipients have already had their protected status lapse.
Does that mean things are headed for a shutdown January 19?
Not out of the realm of possibility.
What about everything else?
Both sides say if DACA gets solved, everything else will unlock (spending caps deal, CHIP, disaster relief, 702.) We'll see if that's the case, but based on those involved, that's a pretty good -- if tenuous due to the current state of DACA talks -- bet.
The actual negotiations
The Senate working group continues to move forward on their talks (with the implicit blessing of Republican and Democratic leadership), but anyone who tells you Tuesday was a clarifying moment for the negotiations -- or any kind of breakthrough -- is lying.
What's true: According to several aides and lawmakers I spoke with Tuesday, Democrats felt good after the freewheeling meeting with the President, to the extent that they believe as someone with no real core policy beliefs, his natural inclination is to side with them on the issue.
What's truer: What the President says one day means absolutely nothing the next day -- or next hour. And perhaps more importantly, according to one senator who was in the meeting:
"Everyone in that meeting could hear what they wanted to hear -- no question. But if anyone came out of that thinking they had a better idea of where things stood, well, they listened to a different meeting than I did."
CNN's Lauren Fox wrote a very smart story about this, but I want to make this point for anyone who missed it: Please move away from "the wall" as the huge issue in these talks/negotiations/fights. It is not. There is an out everyone has eyed for weeks -- appropriate the President's $1.6 billion budget request, move it through a mechanism that Democrats can say is for fencing and the President can say it's a wall, and then have Twitter fights over semantics.
This is no longer a central issue in the talks. The size of the funding? Sure, to some degree, yes.
But the real issues now are on far more complicated (and less shiny object) policy positions (what can be done on family migration -- or so called "chain migration" -- that both sides can accept, how do you address the TPS for diversity visa issue, extent and specifics of the border security piece and funding etc.