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With deal on ending shutdown, Trump wins immigration leverage

President Donald Trump speaks to the press while walking to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Dec. 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

President Donald Trump won valuable leverage in the fight over young immigrants on Monday following the Democrats’ caving to the White House in agreeing to end the shutdown.

The issue goes way beyond Democrats agreeing to vote to reopen the government. They have also offered to spend billions to build Trump’s signature wall along the southern border. Another sign of the Democrats’ weakened bargaining position on immigration is that House Republicans are not returning their calls. And some Democrats admit now they “don’t care” what is given up to make sure the roughly 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally as children are protected under the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program.

“This is a white flag,” said a Democratic consultant advising the party’s leadership. “It makes the chances of getting a DACA deal so much lower because Republicans now know Democrats have absolutely no leverage to exact any pain on Republicans if they refuse to pass a DACA deal.”

Still, Democrats simply didn’t have enough support on Monday as Senate leaders recognized only about 10 of their rank-and-file Senate Democrats felt strong enough to sustain a long fight to protect the DACA program. In fact, the final tally to end the government closure was a rout, 81-18.

“I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses,” Trump said in a statement.

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Even if Senate Democrats had prevailed, they acknowledged prospects in the House were dim for passage of any compromise that included protection for the young immigrants, known as Dreamers. They recognized the difficulty for House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to bring any measure to the floor that a large portion of Republicans, let alone key members of Trump’s inner circle, consider “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

“Congressional Republicans and President Trump have always held the upper hand in DACA negotiations,” said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, who is in touch with negotiators. “The American people did not elect President Trump on the promise of a DACA amnesty. In fact, he pledged to rescind the program on his first day in office. The fact that President Trump is even willing to address the DACA population is a major concession, and Democrats would be wise to recognize that.”

Over the weekend, Democrats’ movement toward Trump’s position began to accelerate as leaders like Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and then Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said they’d support wall funding in exchange for protections for Dreamers.

“It’s not about a wall. We’ll build him a wall. Tell us how high you want it. But free the Dreamers,” Gutierrez told CNN.

The backlash from advocates has been harsh.

“It’s official: Chuck Schumer is the worst negotiator in Washington — even worse than Trump,” said Murshed Zaheed, political director of the progressive advocacy group CREDO. “Any plan to protect Dreamers that relies on the word of serial liars like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or Donald Trump is doomed to fail.”

Schumer had complained that working with Trump is like negotiating with “Jell-O.” He offered Trump the wall, but White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short insisted Sunday that Trump has been upfront about his priorities, which include helping the young immigrant population, increased border security and ending chain migration and the visa lottery program.

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A senior Republican aide involved in the immigration negotiations said Democrats are agreeing to more concessions in part because they are being faultedfor shutting down the federal government.

“I don’t think it played out the way the Ds expected it,” said a senior Republican aide involved in the immigration negotiations. “I thought we would get blamed. … I think the Democrats thought they would get out of there clean.”

In the House, Republicans are talking about protections for Dreamers, boosting border security, and ending chain migration and diversity lottery, but not with Democrats. “Zero progress,” a Democratic aide complained.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told reporters Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is committed to taking up the immigration issue, but McConnell warned Democrats against trying to shut down the government again “over the issue of illegal immigration.” He said he’d continue the debate on immigration, but warned that his commitment wasn’t after Feb. 8, when Congress will have to confront this situation again.

“I think if we’ve learned anything during this process, it’s that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something the American people didn’t understand and would not have understood in the future,” McConnell said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., highlighted the challenges Democrats face defending this position over immigration when he thanked Democratic colleagues for their support despite its unpopularity back home.

“You stuck your necks out and said I’m willing to go on record even if it’s hard to explain back,” Durbin said.

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© 2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.