The Corner

Politics & Policy

Chuck Schumer Doesn’t Want An Immigration Deal

It’s hard to read Chuck Schumer’s announcement yesterday that a border wall is “off the table” and non-negotiable as anything but an effort to sabotage any deal with the Trump White House on immigration. Consider the state of play, all of which Schumer knows full well:

  • Trump will sign basically anything that he can claim includes “The Wall.”

  • Trump would be effectively admitting defeat if he signs something that he can’t claim includes “The Wall”:

     

  • If Trump is on board with an immigration deal with the Senate, that will give cover for it to pass the Republican-controlled House.

  • Most of the Republican voters who care about restricting immigration will take their cues from Trump if he says he got a wall from Schumer, and will be happy and encouraged regardless of what else is in the bill.

  • Most of the Democratic voting base will be furious at Democrats that they did something to make Trump happy – especially on his signature issue – regardless of what else is in the bill. The “Resistance” will treat this as the equivalent of a deal with Hitler.

  • The optics of a smiling Trump signing a bipartisan immigration deal will play well overall for Trump and Republicans, and will help defuse some of the most polarizing arguments against Trump.

  • Schumer expects to have more leverage to extract better terms in 2019, given that the Democrats are universally expected, at a minimum, to gain seats in the House in November.

As Jonah Goldberg argues, given that The Wall is such a symbolic lightning rod while being far from the most effective form of border control, a president who was focused on results would consider using it as a bargaining chip to get a better deal. I don’t doubt that Trump would do this on other issues, but he’s left himself little room to do so without having to go back to his voters a beaten man by Schumer, something that runs against every Trumpian instinct. Now that both Schumer and Trump have declared the wall non-negotiable, one of them has to cave or there’s no deal – a situation that was completely predictable when Schumer made his announcement.

It’s not irrational for Schumer to play hardball here and prefer to have immigration as a political wedge issue to striking a deal, although of course the consequence of that may be that a bunch of “Dreamers” get deported in the interim (if Trump and his team are serious, that is; Schumer may be gambling that they are not). But unless he reverses course, there should be no pretense that Schumer is trying to make a deal when he has taken the single step most likely to prevent one.

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