First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
WASHINGTON — If Congress’ agenda for September wasn’t already hard enough, President Trump appears to be adding another difficult to-do item — asking Congress to wade into the tricky immigration debate to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
NBC’s Kristen Welker reported on Monday that Trump is leaning toward ending DACA with a six-month window for Congress to potentially save the nearly 1 million beneficiaries, who have gained legal status under the program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will announce the administration’s decision at 11:00 am ET.
Politically, this Trump punt could end up dividing both political parties. When it comes to the Republicans, Trump would be asking a party that rejected the DREAM Act — which DACA is based on — to save it. And it’s not a stretch to think that any Republican who votes to save DACA would be inviting a serious primary challenge from the right.
When it comes to Democrats, the chatter from Capitol Hill is that congressional Republicans might offer Dems this compromise: To save DACA, you need to vote for Trump’s border wall. And that could divide Democrats, as well as invite primary challenges from the left.
Those potential divides — along with Trump running away from the issue (punting to Congress, asking Sessions to announce the policy) — PROBABLY mean Congress eventually does nothing, by taking the path of least resistance. But this expected move will test the definition of pragmatism in the Trump Era, just as another hurricane comes barreling toward the U.S. coastline.
If Trump wants to keep DACA alive, he’s asking a GOP that rejected it to save it
Don’t forget: Almost EVERY Republican voted against the 2010 DREAM Act, which gave qualified young undocumented immigrants the chance to earn legal status in the United States.
In December 2010, the DREAM Act passed the House by a 216-198 margin. But only eight Republicans supported the legislation. And Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy — the current No. 1 and No. 2 in House GOP leadership — voted against the bill.
And later that month, the Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation: 55 senators voted for the DREAM Act, including only three Republicans (Dick Lugar, Bob Bennett, Lisa Murkowski), and two of them are no longer in the Senate.
Also, in the NBC|SurveyMonkey poll released last week, 64 percent of adults said they supported DACA, but that included just 41 percent of Republicans and GOP leaners (compared with 66 percent of independents and 86 percent of Democrats and Dem leaners).
Trump on DACA beneficiaries back in August 2015: “They have to go”
Here’s what one us asked Trump about DACA on “Meet the Press” back in August 2015:
TODD: You'll rescind the Dream Act executive order, the DACA?TRUMP: We have to. We have to make a whole new set of standards. And when people come in, they have to come in —TODD: You're going to split up families. You're going to deport children?TRUMP: Chuck — no, no. No, we're going to keep the families together. We have to keep the families together.TODD: But you're going to kick them out?TRUMP: They have to go.
Re-upping: Trump, Congress have a busy agenda for September
- With Congress returning from its August recess, here’s its to-do list for this month alone:
- Providing money for Hurricane Harvey relief
- Passing a budget (which is a prerequisite to lock in reconciliation protection to pursue tax reform);
- Raising the debt limit (which will require Democratic votes, given conservative opposition to any “clean” increase in the debt limit);
- Keeping government open (does Trump insist on his border wall?);
- Crafting a tax-reform bill that can pass Congress in the coming months;
- And maybe giving health care one more shot in the Senate.
NBC’s Frank Thorp says other items include the Senate tackling the Defense authorization bill, flood insurance and SCHIP (the children’s health-insurance program). That’s a difficult agenda for any president and Congress — let alone a president with an approval rating below 40 percent, and a GOP-led Congress that increasingly is at odds with the president.
Congress isn’t giving up on health care — at least when it comes to fixing the individual market
As for health care, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin says that congressional lawmakers aren’t giving up on the issue. “Republican plans to replace Obamacare are fading fast, but that doesn't mean Congress is done with health care. On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee kicks off the first of four scheduled hearings this month examining the individual health care market with the goal of producing a bipartisan bill that makes modest fixes.”
“Ideas on the table include funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off, adding a reinsurance fund to help with unexpected patient costs, and providing a backup option for counties with no insurers under the Affordable Care Act.”
On North Korea, Trump issues a series of threats. But does anyone believe him?
When it comes to North Korea, President Trump has issued plenty of threats. He’s promised “fire and fury,” and he tweeted on Sunday that he’s considering “stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea” — which would include China.
But don’t forget what former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said about North Korea’s nukes: "There's no military solution [to North Korea's nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here. They got us."
The Menendez trial starts this week, and it contains plenty of drama
Sen. Robert Menendez’s bribery trial begins Wednesday, and NBC’s Pete Williams says the outcome could have significant consequences. “The first U.S. senator to face bribery charges in nearly four decades goes on trial Wednesday in a case that could affect the Senate's partisan makeup and the fate of President Donald Trump's legislative agenda.”
“If Menendez is convicted, he would likely resist any calls to resign. If he were to step down this year, his successor would be appointed by New Jersey's current governor, Chris Christie, giving the Republicans an additional Senate seat — which could be key to passing White House-backed Republican health care legislation that failed by one vote.”
“If Menendez were to resign after Jan. 16, the appointment would be made by the state's newly elected governor, likely to be a Democrat.”