Nothing actually changed in American immigration policy this week; no deals were struck, no new initiatives implemented. Congress didn’t do anything to alter the trajectory of American government spending or give long-suffering bureaucrats the budgetary planning horizon they’ve been craving.
Nevertheless, it was an eventful week on both fronts, with a shutdown called off and lines drawn for a new immigration battle.
President Trump also didn’t fire Robert Mueller. But we learned more about the time he almost did and why he almost did it. Meanwhile, even as the GOP’s national poll numbers have recovered somewhat, the party’s hopes of holding the House took two big blows in Pennsylvania.
Here’s what you need to know.
The government reopened
After a very brief government shutdown, senators from both parties agreed early this week to call the whole thing off and pass a continuing resolution funding the government through February 8.
- Good news for sick kids: The big winner here was the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which Republicans had been refusing to fund for months but which suddenly got attached to short-term government funding to make Democrats look bad for filibustering it.
- Bad news for immigrants: The short-lived shutdown was supposed to pressure Republicans into helping young undocumented immigrants, whose lives have been thrown into chaos by Trump’s cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democrats, in the end, didn’t really get anything of substance on this.
- What’s next? Maybe another short-term CR after February 8, maybe a formal long-term spending bill that delivers on GOP promises of big hikes in defense spending in exchange for helping Democrats out on the non-defense side. Meanwhile, immigration talks seem to have gone on a separate track.
Trump released his hostage demands
After months of prodding, on Thursday night the Trump White House finally put pen to paper and released a set of formal demands for legislation to help DREAMers endangered by Trump’s DACA move.
- Generous treatment of DREAMers: The White House proposal is fairly generous to the DREAMers themselves, creating a path to citizenship (rather than mere work permits like DACA) and extending it to a broad universe of 1.8 million DACA-eligible immigrants rather than the smaller set of 800,000 immigrants who actually signed up for DACA.
- Huge, unrealistic cuts in immigration: This is offset by a demand not just for billions in new border security money but for sweeping changes in how the legal immigration system works, paired with a 50 percent cut in pathways for legal immigration. All indications are that this is dead in the Senate.
- What’s next? One interpretation: The White House is simply setting up the argument that it’s Democrats’ fault DREAMers are getting deported, to be deployed if Republicans face questions later this year about sympathetic-sounding deportation cases. Alternatively, this could be a start to an actual bargaining process in which Trump is hoping to get some legal immigration policy changes but would be willing to settle for less than this.
Mueller is working on obstruction of justice
A lot of news this week pertained to special counselRobert Mueller’s exploration of a potential obstruction of justice case against either Donald Trump or members of his team, a case that looks strong to some experts and weak to others.
- Trump considered obstructing the obstruction case: The New York Times reported Thursday night that back in June when Trump first learned Mueller was looking into obstruction of justice, he ordered Mueller fired.
- Don McGahn to the rescue: The hero of the day, according to the Times’s account, was White House counsel Don McGahn, who threatened to resign rather than carry out the order, creating time for cooler heads to prevail.
- The leaks themselves are interesting: Politico quoted a provocative point made by an anonymous Washington lawyer who is representing a senior Trump aide: “To some extent I think the fact of the leaking is almost the most significant, that we’ve reached an inflection point where people at the center of things feel the need to redeem themselves at the expense of the president.”
Pennsylvania Republicans got some bad news
Two totally separate storylines collided in the Pennsylvania GOP House delegation this week: one as Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) announced he wouldn’t seek reelection after news of his settlements for sexual harassment claims came to light, and the other as the state’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s very gerrymandered congressional map.
- The map matters: Barack Obama won Pennsylvania in 2012 and Democrats got more House votes there in 2012, but Republicans won 13 of 18 seats and have maintained that advantage since then. A more neutral map could be worth three or four House seats even absent any swings in opinion toward Democrats.
- Meehan matters too: Meehan, meanwhile, was holding down a vulnerable seat that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Republicans were counting on incumbency advantage to help them hold it, but scandal outweighed that, and now it’ll be an open race.
- What’s next? The state needs some actual new maps. The legislature is still in Republican hands, so they’ll probably try to draw GOP-friendly maps within the contours of the court’s order. But Pennsylvania has a Democratic governor now who can veto them, in which case the court itself will end up drawing the maps.