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Monday, January 22, 2018

The Federal Government Is Shut Down, and You Can Blame a Duke Alum

Posted by on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 8:58 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

On Friday night, the federal government shut down. Much of the weekend was consumed with finger-pointing: President Trump and congressional Republicans blaming Democrats for blocking government funding to secure “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants (half true, though the continuing resolution didn’t get fifty Senate Republican votes), and Democrats saying that Trump’s hardline team had quashed an immigration deal at the last moment (true). Last night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to vote to keep the federal government open through February 8, with the promise that he’ll put a DACA bill on the floor if there’s no agreement beforehand. Democrats objected, so they’ll vote on that today at noon; the question Chuck Schumer and company face is whether they trust Lucy not to pull the football away this time.

There’s way too much going on to dig into every detail, but here are a few overarching points of interest:

IF YOU’RE SO INCLINED, BLAME STEPHEN MILLER: The Duke alum and white-nationalist-leaning White House adviser is, as The Washington Post describes, “a true believer in restrictionist immigration policies [who is] attempting to broker a historic deal on behalf of a president with similarly hawkish, but far more flexible, positions.”
  • “Miller has come to be widely viewed—unfairly, White House officials argue—as something of a puppeteer, helping to shape and scuttle deals for a president who doesn’t understand—or care to understand—the details. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.)—whose doomed immigration compromise with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) was the target of that Trump tirade in the Oval Office—blasted Miller as a primary reason for the continuing standoff over border issues. ‘As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He’s been an outlier for years,’ Graham told reporters at the Capitol. ‘I’ve talked with the president; his heart is right on this issue. He’s got a good understanding of what will sell. And every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members.’”
  • “Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Trump has hawkish immigration views on a gut level but doesn’t necessarily understand all of the policy details and implications. He said Miller and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly—who also plays a crucial role in immigration policy—are ‘not so much yanking the president’s leash’ as doing ‘the proper job of staff’ by steering the president to his goals.”
  • “Miller’s driving obsession is immigration, an area where he has long pushed hard-line positions going back to his days as a combative conservative activist at Duke University. In Washington, as an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), he was instrumental in helping to kill a bipartisan effort in 2013 for a broad immigration deal.”

TRUMP DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE WANTS: From the NYT:
  • “When President Trump mused last year about protecting immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, calling them ‘these incredible kids,’ aides implored him privately to stop talking about them so sympathetically. When he batted around the idea of granting them citizenship over a Chinese dinner at the White House last year with Democratic leaders, Mr. Trump’s advisers quickly drew up a list of hard-line demands to send to Capitol Hill that they said must be included in any such plan. And twice over the past two weeks, Mr. Trump has privately told lawmakers he is eager to strike a deal to extend legal status to the so-called Dreamers, only to have his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, make clear afterward that such a compromise was not really in the offing—unless it also included a host of stiffer immigration restrictions.”
  • “As the government shutdown continued for its second day on Sunday, one thing was clear to both sides of the negotiations to end it: The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve.”

MAKING DREAMERS THE BAD GUYS: Over the weekend, the president’s reelection campaign released a frankly insane ad claiming that Democrats who oppose Trump’s border wall are “complicit” in crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. [Slate] This comes after the Department of Justice released a completely bogus report tying immigration to terrorism. [WaPo] And then, because this story can’t get any more nuts, a White House official went on Meet the Press and tried to distance that ad from the White House, saying it was “done from a political organization.” Of course, that political organization is the president’s, and it’s his voice at the end of the ad authorizing the message. [Politico]
  • “For much of his presidency, Donald Trump promised he’d treat Dreamers ‘with heart,’ showing an unusual level of sympathy for someone whose hard-line immigration stance was the hallmark of his campaign. … But now, Dreamers are getting dragged into the toxic politics of the government shutdown. Republicans are sharpening their rhetoric against the Dreamers, pitting them against other popular priorities such as keeping a children’s health care program solvent and funding the military. Trump’s political arm released an ad accusing top Democrats of siding with the ‘interests of illegal immigrants over Americans’—a point top White House officials, including the president himself, made throughout the first day of the shutdown. ‘Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border,’ Trump tweeted on Saturday.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Polls conducted last week show that voters are more likely to blame Trump and the GOP for the shutdown than Democrats [Politico]; we won’t know for a while if the White House’s weekend messaging changed that. Meanwhile, the president is urging Senate Republicans to go nuclear and eliminate the filibuster, though it seems unlikely there’s support for that in the GOP ranks [Politico]. So, unless someone bends, the stalemate could drag on for some time, though there’s an indication that a deal is on the horizon.
  • NYT: “The best hope for a breakthrough appeared to reside with the group of about 20 senators from both parties who met throughout the weekend to try to hammer out a compromise to present to Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer. A group of bipartisan lawmakers emerged as the negotiators behind a potential deal to end the gridlock and reopen the government. The group was discussing a plan in which the government would stay open through early February, to be coupled with a promise that the Senate would tackle the issue of immigration in the coming weeks.”
  • “In a gesture to lawmakers seeking assurances that the Senate will address the fate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants, Mr. McConnell said he intended to move ahead with immigration legislation next month if the issue had not been resolved by then. … Senate Democrats gave no immediate sign that they would get on board with the temporary spending bill, leaving open the possibility of another failed vote on Monday that could further deepen the partisan divide three days into the shutdown.”

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