President Trump appears to be in the mood to make deals with Democrats — and Democrats see an opportunity to protect young immigrants.
On Wednesday, the president overruled leaders of his own party — and members of his own Cabinet — to back a plan pushed by Democrats to pair hurricane relief aid to a short-term hike in the debt ceiling along with a measure to keep the government funded until early December.
Democrats hope the president's apparent willingness to work across the aisle will extend to the legislative push to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump is phasing out the Obama-era immigration policy while first giving Congress six months to codify it.
"Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I, and I said if we can get something to happen, we're gonna sign it, and we're gonna make a lot of happy people," Trump told reporters Wednesday while traveling aboard Air Force One.
"Chuck and Nancy" would, of course, be Democrats — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. The two of them — along with other lawmakers, Democrat and Republican — have tried and failed for more than a decade to enshrine protections for DACA recipients, also known as DREAMers, into law.
Trump an unlikely ally?
Pelosi now sees perhaps an unlikely ally in Trump.
"I am praying that the president really cares about the DREAMers — or knows that he should care about the DREAMers," she said Thursday during her weekly news conference.
Indeed, on Thursday, Trump tweeted a message of support to DACA beneficiaries as they await legislative action from Congress in the next six months.
In the same remarks to the press that day, the top Democrat in the House shared that she played a role in the presidential tweet. "I was reporting to my colleagues. I said, 'This is what I asked the president to do,' " Pelosi said, "and boom, boom, boom, the tweet appeared. So that was good."
There are roughly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have received work permits, driver's licenses and other protections under the DACA program. Their fate now rests on the ability of Congress to finally pass the DREAM Act, an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
"It's no question. They have to pass the DREAM Act," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the immigration advocacy group America's Voice. "He's taken away the ability for young people who grew up in this country to keep their jobs, keep their cars and support their families."
A 16-year odyssey
The DREAM Act has languished in Congress since it was originally introduced in 2001. Over the past 16 years, lawmakers have floated different versions of the bill. Each would grant permanent legal status to young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally, as long as they meet certain requirements.
The DREAM Act came closest to clearing Congress in 2010. Back then, the House passed it, but the Senate came up five votes short. The absence of that legislation is what led to President Barack Obama in June 2012 announcing the creation of the DACA policy as a temporary solution.
"It's not a permanent fix," Obama said at the time. "This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people."
In order for Trump to sign the DREAM Act into law, GOP leaders who control both houses of Congress would first need to agree to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The most likely path seems to be for Democrats to attach it to the must-pass fiscal legislation when it comes up again by early December.
Speaker Ryan demands border security
House Speaker Paul Ryan says border security must be a part of any compromise.
"We need to control our borders while we deal with this problem so that we don't have the same problem 10 years from now," Ryan said Thursday during his weekly news conference. "That's just perfectly reasonable."
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois — a champion of the DREAM Act — says his party would accept some provisions for beefed-up border security — but within limits.
"When it comes to DACA and DREAM, we have 76 percent approval across the United States as people are considering the consequences of repealing it and deporting these young people," Durbin said. "I really think we have an opportunity here — one we haven't had in the whole time since I introduced it — to pass this on a bipartisan basis now."