On Monday, the Trump administration leaked via Politico the news that President Trump had decided to end President Obama’s executive amnesty — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Trump White House won’t immediately end DACA, however; instead, they’ll delay their enforcement for six months, supposedly pressuring Congress to act in the meantime.
This is a seriously problematic strategy. If you are an advocate of DACA, you obviously think that the president shouldn’t be dumping it — and you think that Congress is unlikely to act to restore DACA, particularly if President Trump insists on funding for his border wall in exchange for signing a DACA restoration. If you’re an opponent of DACA, Trump’s six-month delay isn’t going to provide any serious measure of comfort — it’s obviously designed to force Congress to restore DACA, which means that Trump’s heart isn’t behind renewing enforcement of immigration law against so-called DREAMers.
What’s more, the six-month delay won’t achieve what Trump wants. Presumably, Trump’s math goes something like this: his threats will force Congress to the table, and Democrats and Republicans, fearful of allowing DACA to expire, will give him what he wants on his wall. But during those six months, a few things are likely to happen.
1. Trump’s Base Will Fight Back. First, Trump’s own base will sound off on trading DACA for the wall — immigration restrictionists like Ann Coulter aren’t likely to sign off on a trade that should be completely unnecessary given Republican domination of Congress. They’ll suggest that Trump made two promises, not just one, and trading one promise for the other isn’t proper lawmaking.
2. Congressional Democrats Will Stonewall. Congressional Democrats aren’t going to make any deal with Trump: they’re perfectly happy for DREAMers to suffer so long as it means they can make hay politically. They’ll simply sit on the sidelines and say that Trump holding deportation of “children” out as a threat simply to get an expensive, useless wall shows just how nasty he is.
3. Congressional Republicans Will Fall Apart. If Trump thinks he’s going to be able to get Congressional Republicans to act on his wall by trading DACA for it, he’s likely to be sorely mistaken. There will be Republicans who take the same purist position as Ann Coulter; there will be others, like Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who are likely to take the same position as Congressional Democrats.
So, what’s the likeliest outcome? Here are the possibilities:
1. Nothing. Let’s say we hit the six-month mark and Congress hasn’t passed anything. Trump could easily just do nothing, and quietly refuse to deport people while still not granting extensions to their paperwork.
2. Republican Congress Passes His Deal. This is the most optimistic vision: Trump gets Republicans to make the trade he’s looking for. This is also the unlikeliest vision. If this happens, Trump wins. But even if it passes, Democrats will be energized for 2018, while Republicans are lukewarm — remember, a huge percentage of Republicans aren’t fans of DACA, whether it’s passed by Congress or through executive action.
3. Trump Sticks To His Deadline. If Congress passes nothing, Trump could attempt to ratchet up the pressure by actively beginning deportations. That would force Congress into action — perhaps. But that’s the riskiest move for Trump personally, since mass deportations don’t make for great headlines.
So, what should Trump have done here? He could have taken the political hit while shielding his own Republican majority. There were two ways to do this: first, he could have immediately dumped DACA, taking the political focus off Congress and allowing them to play good cop. Alternatively, he could have coordinated with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to push legislation first, making the DACA issue obsolete — he could have held the threat of action over their heads, but allowed them to push a compromise bill first, then thrown his weight behind it. That would allow Congressional Republicans to paint Trump as the moving force behind the bill to the base.
This strategy protects Trump to a certain extent, but leaves Congress to take the hit. Trump looks good to his base by quasi-dumping DACA, but leaves Congress an out to do nothing with his six-month delay. Meanwhile, Congress is sent a ticking time bomb scheduled to detonate during a midterm election year.