Debating the Dems’ options on Trump, DACA compromise.

Is There Such Thing as a Good Reason for Democrats to Cooperate With Trump?

Is There Such Thing as a Good Reason for Democrats to Cooperate With Trump?

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Sept. 14 2017 2:59 PM

Is There Such Thing as a Good Reason for Democrats to Cooperate With Trump?

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Have they made a huge mistake?

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Donald Trump appears to have agreed to work with Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to guarantee a path to legal status for DACA recipients in exchange for border-security measures to be named later. Below, Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley and Osita Nwanevu debate whether the #resistance should see the potential deal as a morally imperative low-cost compromise or as short-sighted, base-deflating appeasement.

Ben Mathis-Lilley: Is this good for the Democrats?

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Osita Nwanevu: No. This is a semi-separate question from whether a potential deal is good for Dreamers. The answer to that is putatively yes, but we don't know what kind of potentially draconian measures would be attached to a DACAesque bill to get Republicans to vote for it. We could see something cobbled together that allows Dreamers to stay while doubling down on efforts to round up their families and friends or that further enables the kind of inhumane detentions we've seen at the border. That is presumably the compromise that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are moving us toward right now.

But no, it's not good for the party politically.

Mathis-Lilley: Let's agree on how to define "politically"—do you mean it as in, "this doesn't help their chances of gaining seats in 2018 or winning the 2020 presidential election"?

Nwanevu: Both. I don't think it helps them in either case, partially because of the substance of a potential compromise. I think that kind of compromise bill would be unsatisfying to immigration advocates and the base, which is why I don't know that they're going to reach a deal in Congress to begin with. There's actually a substantial amount of support within the GOP and among Trump supporters for allowing DACA recipients to stay. But I doubt they're so enthused by the program that they'd see a deal as a reason to vote for Democrats.

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Mathis-Lilley: Interesting. On the merits of the reported agreement, my own reaction was that it would likely end up involving face-saving border security spending—"lasers and drones," as our colleague Jim Newell puts it—but not necessarily an actual enhanced statutory crackdown on undocumented immigrants who are already here. My reasoning is that if Trump is willing to drop his demand for a border wall, which he appears to be doing, he's not going to then turn around and ask for something like increased deportation authority/funding that's even more offensive to progressive priorities. (Or at least that would be more offensive to me personally—not sure whether Pelosi and Schumer would make the same calculation.) If Trump's cult-of-personality apologists on the far right are already lining up to support the "deal" given only the vague promise of increased border security, and all he wants is a legislative "win" and to stick it to Mitch McConnell, why does he need to go any further? Especially when he already has the executive prerogative via the Department of Homeland Security to carry out as many inhumane deportations as he wants.

As for the political side of it, I agree that there's no particular way this helps Democrats proactively gain political capital, as it were. (I'm sorry I just used the words "proactive" and "political capital.") It will probably tick Trump's approval upwards a few points. On the other hand, his approval rating is deeply in the red and Democrats have a nearly 10-point lead in FiveThirtyEight's generic congressional ballot tracker. So maybe they have some political capital to spare at the moment, especially on an issue that could conceivably end up depressing the far right's enthusiasm for Trump.

Nwanevu: I guess substantively I just have a hard time believing that passing a substantially clean DACAesque bill is going to be easier now, under Trump, than it was during the Obama administration. That would be remarkable. It's definitely true that there are Trump boosters at the ready to defend him if the "border security" measures end up being window dressing, but I feel as though a bill Republicans would vote for would need to include some security or other measures the most rabid and reliably voting parts of the base would see as meaningful. Because even though there's theoretically a base of Republican DACA supporters, it won't be a good look for Congressional Republicans if the *one major thing* they manage to pass this year is largely clean immigration bill enthusiastically supported by Nancy Pelosi. There's also the possibility that they pass something clean but Trump feels that he has to compensate by doing something using executive authority, again just to appease the more rabid factions of his base. We don't know. Which is why doing this dance with Trump is so dangerous.

My feeling is that what's going to help the Democrats politically is advancing a broad, forward-looking agenda. Compromising with Trump at best splits the Democratic base, and as far as depressing the far-right goes, I don't know that the past several years of politics show that the deeply nativist far right needs to show up in order for Dems to lose elections.

Their problems are bigger and more pervasive than that.

Mathis-Lilley: "Trump could change his mind at any time and do something extremely harmful" is certainly a compelling argument. I also think we're probably agreed on the need for Democrats to be putting most of their time into putting forth a vision/platform for 2018 and thereafter which is more constructive and developed than tweeting the #resist hashtag. Still, I'd ask you this—if you were in Chuck Schumer's shoes, and somehow also in a room with the 800,000 DACA recipients, and you were presented with the option of guaranteeing their legal status in exchange for funding border pork and standing with Trump at a few photo ops ... would you really be able to say no?

Nwanevu: First of all, I want to say I think that if #theResistance had had real teeth among Democratic members of Congress—as the Tea Party did in 2009 and 2010 with the regular and rabid participation of Republican members of Congress—Trump might have been cowed into not ending DACA in the first place. Or there might have been a credible way to bully him into reversing course now. Because he doesn't want to be seen as cruel in this case.

I'd unquestionably say no to a grinning photo-op. But they really are in a genuinely difficult position here—DACA recipients will face deportation in early March if Congress doesn't act. If a clean deal with border pork really is reached, framing it properly is essential. They absolutely should not come out and say it's a grand bipartisan deal we ought to be proud of. If they act, they will have acted because Trump will have forced their hand. And he forced their hand because he's committed to a racist immigration politics the Republican Party has enabled, and both should be defeated. This is what they should say and they should say it loudly. That's harder to do after working with them to pass a bill, obviously, but they have to make it clear that a deal crafted on the basis of a particular, narrow sympathy for children brought here by no fault of their own and a broader nativism or xenophobia aren't really mutually exclusive.