A new reality or a passing moment?
For a second week, President Trump has cut deals with Democratic leaders, this time spurning some of his most ardent supporters to back legislation that would provide legal status to roughly 800,000 young immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children, the so-called Dreamers.
The moves have left many in Washington — including on Trump’s White House staff — guessing about the mercurial president’s intentions and plans.
Good afternoon, I'm David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in Washington and elsewhere in national politics and highlight some particularly insightful stories.
WHAT’S HIS MOTIVATION?
That’s one explanation for Trump’s sudden shift to bipartisan deal making: He’s tired of dealing with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, with whom he never forged much of a relationship. In recent weeks, he’s openly criticized McConnell, in particular.
By contrast, Trump seems to enjoy talking with Schumer, a fellow New Yorker, and perhaps House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, as well.
Here’s another explanation, from Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), one of Trump’s earliest congressional supporters: “He’s very frustrated in how things are not getting done, and he’s talking with the Democrats….He didn’t come here to do nothing.”
Trump, as he’s often said, likes action. He clearly loves the theater of signing bills into law. What’s in the bills matters less to him than the fact that something has gotten done.
“Obviously, he’s not a guy who dots the I’s and crosses the T’s,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend. “He does things by trial and error, and he finds what works.”
As the president told reporters Thursday: “We have to get things passed. If we can’t get things passed, then we have to go a different route.”
A third explanation focuses on Trump’s love for being the center of attention and speculation. The sudden spate of bipartisanship may simply be his latest way to upset the status quo in Washington.
Trump’s true motivation likely is a mix. The larger question is how long this lasts and how far it goes.
As Noah Bierman wrote, the turn to bipartisanship has upset the calculations of both sides. On the left, many Democrats trust nothing Trump says. On the right, many Republicans fear that he’ll sell out core principles.
On both sides, partisan divisions among voters have grown deeper in the past year, new polling data show.
In the weeks after the election, Trump swung hard to the right, stocking his administration with figures from the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, including Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, budget director Mick Mulvaney and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
Trump’s now departed strategist, Steve Bannon, long argued that the president needed to govern from the right. Voters in the center and left would never back him, Bannon said; his path to reelection would depend on intense support from his conservative base.
If Trump has decided to test a different approach, these two weeks could prove truly consequential. In the past, however, predictions that Trump was about to “pivot” to some new, more moderate, version of himself have always proved wrong.
DREAMERS STEP TOWARD LEGALIZATION
Even if the bipartisan moment proves fleeting, it could last long enough to break the nearly two-decade stalemate over legalizing the young immigrants known as Dreamers.
If so, the irony would be deep: The president who ran on the most nativist platform since Calvin Coolidge would be signing the largest immigration-liberalization measure in more than 30 years.
If that’s to happen, we’ll know soon. When Trump announced the end of the Obama administration’s DACA program, which shielded the Dreamers from deportation, he gave Congress six months to act. Now, the White House has sided with Pelosi in calling for action before Congress goes on recess in early October.
Moving fast would be smart: The longer the potential deal sits, the more it will be a target.
Trump may not care about the details of immigration policy, but advocates on both sides care deeply, and negotiations over what border security measures Congress will approve as part of the package could bog down. Trump already, however, has agreed that the deal won’t include money for his proposed wall along the southern border. One issue Trump raised Friday in a Twitter message is whether Dreamers in the future would be able to sponsor relatives for green cards.
On Thursday, some of Trump’s most prominent supporters were calling the deal a betrayal. In an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Bannon predicted “civil war” inside the GOP if Congress moved to legalize the Dreamers.
Inside the administration, opponents of legalization, including Sessions and his former aide, Stephen Miller, now the White House domestic policy director, could seek ways to undermine an agreement.
But the reality is that even among Trump voters, many see the Dreamers as more sympathetic than other immigrants in the country illegally. And even those who doubt the policy may worry about the political consequences of the alternative — no action, leading to a midterm election shadowed by hundreds of thousands of attractive young people losing their jobs and being threatened with deportation to countries they have almost no memory of. Trump’s backing for legalization gives cover to Republicans who in the past have voted against versions of the Dream Act.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) first introduced the proposal to legalize Dreamers in 2001. Its time may finally have come.
Meanwhile state lawmakers today will vote on a plan to declare California a "sanctuary state" from federal immigration policies before adjourning for the year. Our Sacramento bureau will cover that debate live on Essential Politics before the Legislature leaves town.
HEALTHCARE BATTLES, PRESENT AND FUTURE
The bipartisan effort to stabilize health insurance markets, pushed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chair of the Senate Health Committee, and the panel’s senior Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is heading to the final, crucial stage, Noam Levey wrote. Because insurance companies are making final decisions on their premiums for 2018, Congress needs to act by the end of this month to prevent rates from rising sharply in some states.
A compromise bill likely would be coupled with a separate measure, sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, that would extend for five years the popular Children Health Insurance Program. The program insures almost 9 million children nationwide. The current authorization for CHIP expires Sept. 30.
Some conservative Republicans are readying one last shot at trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The move, by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), also faces a Sept. 30 deadline because a procedural measure designed to avoid a Senate filibuster expires at the end of the month.
As the fight over Obamacare continues, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, introduced the latest version of his bill for a single, government-run insurance program for all Americans. Cathy Decker looked at the risks involved in the rush by many prominent Democrats, including most of the party’s 2020 presidential aspirants, to embrace Sanders’ plan.
OTHER NOTABLE STORIES
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin already has stumbled a couple of times over the clash between his life as an extremely wealthy investor and his role as a public official. Now, the department’s inspector general has begun examining Mnuchin's request to use a military jet when he traveled on his honeymoon.
As Jim Puzzanghera wrote, Mnuchin in the end didn’t use the jet. But the request, alone, has created problems for the secretary.
The Supreme Court gave Trump a partial victory on one aspect of his travel ban, David Savage wrote. The justices put on hold a lower court ruling that would have exempted thousands of refugees from the ban. But the administration has given up on another part of its policy, conceding that grandparents and other relatives of American residents should be exempt from the ban on travel from several majority-Muslim countries. The current ban expires later this month.
The FBI is investigating two Russian government media organizations accused of spreading propaganda in the U.S., David Cloud, Tracy Wilkinson and Joe Tanfani wrote. Investigators are questioning whether RT and Sputnik should be required to register as foreign agents.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has devoted much of his time to developing a plan to trim the State Department staff and make diplomacy more efficient. This week, he began unveiling the details, Wilkinson wrote.
Trump has made a number of promises to historically black colleges, but as Lauren Rosenblatt wrote, black leaders say those pledges have gone unfulfilled, and some want a White House conference scheduled for next week to be postponed.
An American who fought for Islamic State has been captured and is being held in custody overseas, the Pentagon said.
The Senate, 61-36, rejected a move by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) to end the legal authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Hillary Clinton is out with her new book, rehashing her loss. As Mark Barabak and Barbara Demick wrote, the reviews are mixed.
TRACK KEY CONTESTS FOR CONTROL OF CONGRESS
The outcome of a handful of congressional races in California could determine which party controls the House after next year’s midterm elections. Our newly unveiled race tracker allows you to keep tabs on 13 races that could make the difference.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S TWEETS
Twitter has long been Trump’s favored means of pushing his message. We’re compiling all of Trump’s tweets. It’s a great resource. Take a look.
That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.
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