WASHINGTON — With Donald Trump working to keep his party unified in the government shutdown battle, some Senate Republicans have begun discussing expanding negotiations over the wall to include additional immigration issues, such as relief for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The conversation, mostly involving Republicans, picked up steam on Wednesday as the stalemate over the government shutdown and the border wall showed no signs of easing. While the discussions might be aimed at solving a number of long-standing immigration reform issues, they also risk stirring a backlash from conservatives who believe DACA relief to be a form of amnesty, and on the left from those who don't want it used as a negotiating tool.
"There is some discussions about whether a bigger deal could be negotiated that would include money for border security," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said after Trump met with Senate Republicans over lunch in the Capitol on Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has formed a working group of senators to discuss a broader immigration deal. The starting point would be the Bridge Act, which provides legal work permits for people eligible for DACA relief in exchange for $25 billion for the wall.
Graham hosted the first meeting in his office Wednesday afternoon. Attendees included those who have expressed unease over the shutdown, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has stepped into a leading White House role on the shut down, is also in attendance.
No Democrats joined the meeting but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., met with Graham privately. Manchin said Graham presented some ideas to move the negotiations forward.
One Republican senator said that after a conversation with the president at the White House, the president appeared open to including DACA in wall negotiations to reopen the government. The senator, who didn't want to be identified because they are relaying private conversations, said they spoke to Trump's chief of staff Mick Mulvaney about including the issue of Temporary Protected Status. The Trump administration has ended TPS, or legal status, for at least 200,000 Central Americans and Haitians.
But Democrats have indicated that they don't want to bring DACA into discussions, in part, because they don't trust the president in negotiations.
During a previous negotiation on immigration, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said negotiating with Trump is like "negotiating with Jell-O" because after what appears to be a tentative agreement the president has backtracked. "If he has trouble with this, imagine how much trouble he'll have with a bigger solution," Schumer said Wednesday about the prospect of broadening out the negotiations.
And the right is likely to immediately oppose a deal that includes DACA. Last week, conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted that "NOTHING could be worse than another amnesty."