There are two kinds of policy stories these days: the ones that are driven by Donald Trump’s unusual characteristics as a public figure and party leader, and the ones that are driven by the broadly shared ideological commitments of the contemporary conservative movement. This week saw both trends in effect, with Trump very much driving the bus on the fate of former beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and broad conservative hostility to government social assistance programs driving the bus on the fate of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The two narrative threads meet in Arizona, where both the Trumpier and establishmentier wings of the party are fielding very strong candidates in an upcoming Senate primary, with the winner set to face a strong Democratic challenger on whose shoulders the party’s hopes for retaking the Senate largely rest.
Here’s what you need to know.
Trump scuttled a DACA deal
After a televised meeting with members of Congress in which the president seemed confused on policy specifics but ready to agree to anything Congress agreed to regarding the fate of the DREAMers, a bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement on a proposal, only to have the White House scuttle it based on the objections of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
- Why it matters: Without a deal, we may be looking at a government shutdown and are almost certainly looking at serious negative consequences for nearly 700,000 immigrants who’ll lose their work permits and protection from deportation.
- What’s going on? There’s a strong contrast between what Trump keeps saying (that he sympathizes with the DREAMers’ plight and wants to help them but also wants to do something on border security) and what he keeps doing (deferring to the most hardline anti-immigration members of his party, who insist on sweeping revisions to immigration policy). His stated position is very conducive to dealmaking, but his actions make a deal impossible.
- What’s next? Nobody has officially broken off negotiations, so it’s still possible in principle that a deal will be reached. Certainly it doesn’t seem too hard to imagine a deal that could get 60 votes in the Senate. But if the White House doesn’t want a deal — and it seems like that’s the case — there won’t be one.
CHIP got cheaper but still didn’t pass
Congressional Republicans have been refusing to do a five-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program over demands that it, unlike the $1.5 trillion tax cut the GOP passed late last year, be paid for through offsetting spending cuts. But new analyses from the Congressional Budget Office have drastically reduced the price tag — to less than $0 over the long run.
- The CBO’s new math: New estimates from the CBO say that a five-year extension would cost $800 million, and a 10-year extension would save $6 billion.
- Why it works: The core issue is that by repealing the individual mandate in last year’s tax bill, Republicans pushed up premiums on Affordable Care Act marketplaces. But low-income families are still eligible for ACA subsidies — subsidies that rise in line with premiums — so under the new system, it will be cheaper to give kids CHIP insurance than to have them buy it on the marketplaces.
- There’s still no deal: Since the argument was originally about how to offset the cost of extending CHIP funding but there now is no cost of extending CHIP funding, you’d think that would get Congress to an easy agreement, but Republican leadership still has no plans to bring a CHIP bill to the floor. The program’s funding expired more than 100 days ago, and kids are losing insurance.
Trump said some things
The Washington Post reported Thursday evening that during a meeting with lawmakers, President Trump questioned why people from “shithole countries” in Africa (plus Haiti) are allowed to come to the United States, while advocating that we find a way to bring in more immigrants from countries like Norway.
- Facts on African immigration: According to the Migration Policy Institute, 39 percent of adult immigrants to the United States from sub-Saharan Africa have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31 percent of the US-born population, so despite the White House’s professed desire to make the immigration system more “merit-based,” it’s not clear what the problem specifically is with immigrants from Africa.
- Trump said some more stuff: Separately, the same evening, Trump did an interview with the Wall Street Journal that was full of bizarre remarks, ranging from, “I know more about wedges than any human being that’s ever lived,” to, “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.”
- Why it matters: This week was a reminder, if one was needed, that Trump has a few strongly held convictions about policy issues but detailed knowledge about none of them and little inclination to learn.
Arizona’s Senate race heated up
Outside of the Beltway — but very much with ramifications in the Capitol — the race to succeed Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in the United States Senate heated up, with two candidates officially announcing their intention to enter the race.
- Arpaio versus McSally: One is Martha McSally, a Republican House member from the southern portion of the state who also happens to be the first woman combat pilot in American history and a favorite of the GOP establishment. The other is Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff turned felon turned pardon recipient who is a favorite of Donald Trump.
- Also Ward and Sinema: Already in the race are Kelli Ward, a longtime local Tea Party favorite, former state legislator, and slightly kooky right-wing gadfly; and the Democrats’ one candidate, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, a well-regarded moderate.
- Why it matters: All Senate seats matter. But Arizona is the centerpiece of Democrats’ hopes of picking up the Senate in 2018. They need to pick up two seats; Nevada gives them their best shot, and Arizona is No. 2. They’d also need all their incumbents to get reelected, a tall order on its own terms, but opposition party incumbents almost always win, so Arizona is at the center of the action.