For all that President Donald Trump’s latest proposal to reopen the government is a non-starter with Democrats, it’s still a risky gambit. Trump is already catching heat from his own base, with complaints that his new concessions on immigration amount to a four-letter word in conservative circles: amnesty.
The latest offer, which Trump announced from the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room Saturday, keeps up his demands for a $5.7 billion border wall and reiterates a previous $800 million provision to address the humanitarian crisis at the border, but this time also offers to extend existing protections to DREAMers and immigrants with Temporary Protected Status for three years.
This puts Trump in a tenuous situation as the partial government shutdown drags on. Congressional Democrats feel they have the upper hand in negotiations and few incentives to give the president what he wants. Trump’s approval ratings were already slipping prior to his announcement, even among core members of his base, and now his new proposal risks alienating his staunchest defenders.
If the situation already seemed entrenched before his “major announcement” Saturday, Trump may have just made it worse.
Influential voices were more than happy to share their disdain for the deal on Saturday, starting with conservative political commentator Ann Coulter, who has long used her platform to demand that Trump keep his signature campaign promise.
100 miles of border wall in exchange for amnestying millions of illegals. So if we grant citizenship to a BILLION foreigners, maybe we can finally get a full border wall.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 19, 2019
Trump proposes amnesty. We voted for Trump and got Jeb!— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 19, 2019
Rep. Steve King, a longtime anti-immigrant voice who was recently reprimanded in Congress over his racist views, jumped into the fray early, tweeting:
A Big Beautiful Concrete Border Wall will be a monument to the Rule of Law, the sovereignty of the USA, & @RealDonaldTrump. If DACA Amnesty is traded for $5.7 billion(1/5 of a wall), wouldn’t be enough illegals left in America to trade for the remaining 4/5. NO AMNESTY 4 a wall!— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) January 19, 2019
The list of detractors goes on.
Breitbart.com characterized the deal with the headline: “Three Year Amnesty.” Roy Beck, president of an immigration-reduction group NumbersUSA, stoked fears that the deal would “incentivize more caravans” of migrants and families traveling from Central America. James Carafano of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the so-called amnesty “undermines our citizen’s confidence in the rule of law.”
All this, even after the administration reportedly tried to make sure the proposal wouldn’t alienate the president’s base. At one point the proposal was said to include a (slightly) greater swath of immigrants, but Steven Miller, the architect behind Trump’s most aggressive immigration policies, was still able to get his fingerprints on the deal, the New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports:
In recent days, as White House officials had been working out the details of the compromise, Mr. Miller intervened to narrow the universe of immigrants who would receive protection, according to people familiar with the internal discussions who described them on the condition of anonymity.
While the original idea had been to include protections for as many as 1.8 million undocumented immigrants eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program known as DACA that protected those illegally brought to the United States as children, Mr. Trump ultimately proposed shielding only the 700,000 who are enrolled.
There’s a chance the gambit may backfire
The partial government shutdown is just a day away from hitting the one-month mark, and still, there’s no foreseeable end in sight. Trump’s big announcement was supposed to give the White House cover, to make it seem as though the president had a deal waiting at the negotiating table, never mind the fact that Democrats have previously rejected similar “compromises” — Trump could then say the other party was the one stonewalling on the shutdown.
But the gambit may prove costly for the president. Polls show Trump, and congressional Republicans broadly, are shouldering the majority of the blame from the shutdown. And doubts are starting to creep into his base. According to a new CNN poll out last week, though white people without college degrees generally support building a wall along the US-Mexico border, their overall views of him are starting to dip.
Working against Trump is his own record on immigration deals. As Vox’s Dara Lind explains, Trump has a long history of backing out of immigration deals when the pressure is on. He’s said he hoped to protect DREAMers and save DACA — while his administration did just the opposite. And then he’s made vague verbal promises to move forward on new legislation, only to back out when immigration hardliners start breathing down his neck.
Even Trump’s own base has been conditioned into treating Trump’s promises on immigration with skepticism. It’s worked for them in the past to pressure him into submission. We’ll see if the tactic will work again.