Congressional Republicans are worried that a decision from President Donald Trump to rescind protections for so-called Dreamers could undercut fall negotiations with Democrats to keep the government open and avoid a federal default.
The White House said Friday that Trump would announce Tuesday whether he would nix President Barack Obama’s executive action granting legal status to those who immigrated to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers. Republicans have long panned the so-called Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, or DACA, as an unconstitutional overreach.
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But now is not the time to blow up the program, GOP leadership sources in Congress caution. Doing so, they worry, could antagonize Democrats in a month in which the GOP desperately needs their help to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government open.
Senior Republicans have also spoken privately of a potential bipartisan accord later in the year that would codify DACA legislatively, in return for a down payment on Trump’s border wall with Mexico. While many agree it’s unlikely and perhaps wishful thinking, they worry Trump ending the program would make such a deal impossible.
In an interview Friday with WCLO in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, Speaker Paul Ryan cautioned Trump against killing the program. The Wisconsin Republican said Obama did “not have the authority to do what he did,” but also argued that Congress — not Trump — has to “fix” the matter.
“[T]here are people who are in limbo,” Ryan said. “These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.”
Ending DACA would inject another hot-button issue into a month already teeming with them. GOP leaders need to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government open by the end of September, in addition to meeting deadlines on a handful of other smaller issues involving aviation and flooding programs. They also intend to pass an emergency relief package for Hurricane Harvey victims.
But on almost all of those matters, they will need Democratic help.
The Senate’s higher 60-vote threshold means eight Senate Democrats are needed to pass most legislation. And since Democrats for years have refused any move to offset increases to the debt ceiling with spending cuts, GOP leaders haven’t even broached that possibility.
That’s bad news for conservatives and traditional Republicans, who desperately want to reduce entitlement spending as part of any deal to increase the nation’s $20 trillion borrowing limit. Many of them will refuse to vote for the package, forcing leaders to lean on Democrats to avert an economic crisis this fall.
During a Friday afternoon call, House Democrats did not discuss withholding support for a debt ceiling increase should Trump end DACA. They know, however, that they have leverage in the negotiations.
One Democratic source said their leaders feel encouraged after Ryan called on Trump to let Congress handle the Dreamers matter, and they don’t want to publicly antagonize Republicans when a deal seems possible.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) echoed the speaker’s sentiment, urging Trump to keep the work-permit program in place.
No matter what Trump decides, Democrats plan to continue publicly pressuring Republican leaders to take legislative action to protect young undocumented immigrants. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said she will request a meeting with Ryan about this issue in the coming days.
Lujan Grisham plans to ask Ryan to hold a vote on a bipartisan bill that would continue the DACA program and offer a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. Flake, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have co-sponsored a companion bill in the upper chamber.
“If we could get the Dream Act on the floor for a vote, it would pass,” Lujan Grisham told Democrats during the conference call Friday afternoon.
One area where Democrats are adamant they won’t deal: Any attempt by Republicans to continue DACA in exchange for funding Trump’s prized border wall. While Republicans are hoping that might change, most Democrats say it’s a nonstarter.
“I’ve said that I won’t participate in blackmail and allow President Trump to hold these DACA recipients hostage,” New York Rep. Joe Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told members on the Friday call.