Democrats should stop negotiating with Republicans over Dreamers.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the Capitol rotunda to honor former Sen. Bob Dole on Jan. 17.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the Capitol rotunda to honor former Sen. Bob Dole on Jan. 17.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Shortly after the Senate’s immigration debate concluded Thursday in abject failure, leaving the fate of the Dreamers still up in the air, three Republicans senators who had voted against the bipartisan compromise introduced a new, fallback plan. The proposal from Sens. John Thune, Rob Portman, and Jerry Moran would not offer a path to citizenship for Dreamers, as the bipartisan bill proposed, but would instead pair $25 billion in border security with renewable work permits for the narrower pool of those currently covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

This proposal should not be taken seriously. If, as Portman said in the statement accompanying the proposal, he believes that “[t]hose in the DACA program are here through no fault of their own, and for many this is the only country they know,” why did he vote against the bill protecting them that had the best chance of passing the Senate? Why did Thune and Moran, who express similar sentiments, do the same?

Let’s do a spot of math. The Rounds–King bipartisan bill received 54 votes. The three Democrats who voted against it waited until it was clear the bill would not have enough Republican support to cast their votes, suggesting that they would have reluctantly supported it if needed. Had, say, Sens. Portman, Thune, and Moran supported the bill, it could have received 60 votes and passed the Senate, protecting those in the DACA program who “are here through no fault of their own.”

Instead, Portman, Thune, and Moran waited for that bill to fail so that they could introduce a fallback measure shifting the goal posts further right, making a mockery of their professed desire to protect Dreamers. They didn’t support a bill that paired $25 billion in border security with a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, but they do support a bill that would pair that $25 billion in border security with temporary protections for significantly fewer. If they think protecting Dreamers is the Right Thing to Do, why are they diluting the offer?

Enough. Senate Democrats made a good-faith effort to deal on the issue. By agreeing to Trump’s wall and to not offer protections for parents of Dreamers, they gave away more than many of them were comfortable with. But most Republicans, with the White House choreographing the show, have proven themselves to be unreliable partners. They are stringing Democrats along for as long as Democrats are willing to make concessions. Democrats should stop making them and instead allow Republicans to show what they are willing to accept.

It hasn’t been fully appreciated yet that Thursday was one of the worst days of the Trump administration. The Department of Homeland Security, the White House press office, and certain Machiavellian nativist “senior administration officials” made up and blasted comical lies about the Rounds–King legislation in an effort to keep Senate Republicans away from it. They were successful in that. They were less successful in passing their preferred amendment. The Grassley bill, a codification of the White House’s plan, would have thrown historic legal immigration cuts into the mix. In a final nonsensical demonstration to cap off the day, the White House issued a statement Thursday night blaming the Grassley bill’s failure on a “filibuster” from “Schumer Democrats.” The amendment got 39 votes.

It would be treating the White House as far too reasonable an operation, though, to assume that it even wanted its proposal to pass. As Politico reports, the White House still believes it can extract further concessions as events play out. “The White House has been telling Republican senators that it expects the Supreme Court to overturn the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling extending protections for undocumented immigrants under [DACA],” Politico writes. “The implication is that what is now an indefinite grace period would quickly disappear—and that Democrats would be without leverage and forced to accept more Republican demands in order to codify DACA.”

That right there sounds like a game that’s not worth playing. It is time for Democrats to let vulnerable House and Senate Republicans decide if they want to live with the cruelty of the White House’s decision to end DACA, or not. If they don’t, they can support a legislative punt in the form of a several-year extension of DACA, as Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake has proposed. Any further fantasies that White House aide Stephen Miller can conjure should not be entertained.

Republicans will either feel that stripping Dreamers of protections hurts them politically, in which case they will come to Democrats, or they won’t feel that, and they’ll try to jam all of their ideological end goals down Democrats’ throats. Democrats’ obligation to protect Dreamers does not compel them to concede massive reductions to overall immigration levels, as much “wall” as Trump desires, or any of their other principles that Republicans will surely come after. Democrats need to stop negotiating and allow Republicans to determine for themselves whether they’ve overreached as the March 5 expiration of DACA nears.