As the partial government shutdown entered its fifth week, President Donald Trump proposed a trade Saturday: Give me $5.7 billion in border wall money, and I’ll agree to protecting refugees and immigrants who came here as children for three years.
Most Democrats dismissed the offer immediately Saturday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shot down the deal to extend protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration proposal as a “non-starter.”
In a statement issued before Trump’s speech, Pelosi said the idea was a “compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people’s lives.”
Trump, meanwhile, falsely presented the proposal as something he had worked out with Democrats.
He said he thought many Democrats would show their “enthusiastic support,” and he said his solution was a “compassionate response to the ongoing tragedy on our southern border.”
But the offer, which Trump made from the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room, seemed less like a serious effort to end the shutdown and more like his normal blame-shifting.
In response to the speech, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said on MSNBC that Trump’s deal was a “pipe dream,” and that Democrats would dismiss this speech as a publicity stunt.
While the offer certainly doesn’t seem to be a solution to the shutdown, it could potentially stir a new round of negotiations, and it signals Trump’s willingness to make some deal trading DACA protections for border security money.
Trump also signaled that he has moved from his insistence of a 2,000-mile border wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border to a more targeted approach. He referenced a “see-through steel barrier,” also known as a “fence.” He spoke of border security in broader terms, like in increasing the number of border agents. And he offered those trades for immigration ― specifically, three years of legislative relief for DACA recipients, and three years of protections for refugees.
The Trump administration has attempted to shut down DACA, an Obama-era initiative that allowed around 700,000 young people, called Dreamers, to avoid deportation. It has also sought to severely restrict TPS, which allows people to reside in the U.S. if they come from certain nations undergoing conflict or recovering from a natural disaster. But both would get a three-year extension under Trump’s offer.
That proposal is likely to anger Trump’s far-right base, however. Conservative author Ann Coulter ― whom Trump has taken policy cues from in the past ― tweeted that Trump’s offer was “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,” she said.
Trump is also unlikely to move anyone on the left, but he and the White House are hoping there’s a strong group of independents who will see Trump’s effort to negotiate and begin blaming Democrats for the shutdown.
Trump didn’t spend time discussing the shutdown Saturday, but it’s clear he’s facing heat to get federal workers back to work. Polling suggests that 57 percent of Americans blame Trump for the shutdown, and his favorability has been slipping. But he’s hoping he can at least convince some that he’s working to find a solution ― even if his offer is one Democrats were able to easily reject.
One thing Trump did intimate is that he still could use a national emergency declaration to get his border wall, or perhaps other statutes. Trump said he would get his border wall “one way or the other.” That may offer Republicans and Democrats some hope, actually, as many on Capitol Hill believe the only way out of this shutdown is for Trump to declare a national emergency and try to redirect funds to a wall, have that move tied up in court, and then allow both parties to pass funding without giving in to the other side.
The other option ― Republicans, Democrats and Trump actually working out a deal ― is both unlikely and unpalatable to many. But there are some lawmakers who think Trump could find a way out of the shutdown by making a grand deal on immigration.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been urging the president to offer the Democrats protections for immigrants to end the shutdown for weeks. And by offering support for the Bridge Act on Saturday ― legislation Graham co-sponsored ― the White House would allow DACA recipients to obtain three-year work permits and extend the TPS protections.
But in a sign of the long odds such a deal would face, Graham’s co-sponsor of the Bridge Act, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said in a statement that he could not support the president’s offer and did not believe it could pass the Senate.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) supported reopening the government and starting border security negotiations.
“But if we reward this behavior it will never end, and the pain and chaos will be worse in the future,” he wrote over Twitter.
Referencing an Axios report that Jared Kushner and Vice President Mike Pence led negotiations with Republican members of Congress, Schatz said in a later tweet: “You don’t negotiate a compromise with your own Vice President and your son in law. That’s not how this works.”
And Pelosi has said members of her party would not support any spending package that included funds for the wall that Trump envisions. In December, she said Democrats largely consider the massive infrastructure project “immoral, ineffective, expensive.”
“Nothing for the wall,” the speaker reiterated in a Jan. 2 interview with the “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie.
Pelosi has also rejected the idea of exchanging border wall funding for DACA protections, saying in December that “they’re two different subjects.”
Late last year, Democratic congressional leaders offered $1.6 billion for border security, to be used for technological improvements and fencing, but not the 30-foot-high structure proposed by Trump.