President Trump loves to make deals. Last night, his stunned supporters discovered how much he's willing to give away when he senses one is within reach.
It took the better part of 12 hours to clear up, but it looks as if Democratic leaders Charles E. Schumer and Nancy Pelosi persuaded Trump to make Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program protecting young immigrants from deportation, the law of the land.
That agreement still needs to make its way through Congress, of course, where many in the Republican majority likely will vote against their president on this one.
Here's what Trump told reporters Thursday morning as he headed for his helicopter for a trip to Florida:
"We're working on a plan, subject to getting massive border controls. We're working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen. You have 800,000 young people, brought here, no fault of their own. So we're working on a plan. We'll see how it works."
But what about his promised wall on the border with Mexico?
"The wall will come later. We're right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand new."
And here's what Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement:
"There was no final deal, but there was agreement on the following: We agreed that the President would support enshrining DACA protections into law, and encourage the House and Senate to act. What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security. … While both sides agreed that the wall would not be any part of this agreement, the President made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time."
So, despite the initial confusion, they're pretty much on the same page.
Even though Trump, later in the morning, doubled back to emphasize that the wall will still be built – some day.
"Very important is the wall," he said. "It doesn't have to be here" – meaning the DACA bill – "but they can't obstruct the wall if it's in a budget or anything else…. If there's not a wall, we're doing nothing."
In other words: DACA now, wall later.
Score a victory for Schumer and Pelosi, who made it clear that they would not support money for a wall as the price of a DACA law. They agreed, instead, to support a "border security package … including new technology, drones, air support, sensor equipment, [and] rebuilding roads along the border."
For Trump — who never really sounded comfortable with the idea of exposing 800,000 "Dreamers" to deportation — that was close enough for now.
"Look, 92% of the people agree on DACA, but what we want is very, very powerful border security, OK?" he said.
Immigration hard-liners in Trump's base suddenly, belatedly realized that their champion has few fixed principles. (What took them so long?)
But does this mean Trump is pivoting toward the center, adopting a new strategy of working mainly with Democrats instead of his own adopted party?
Only partly. What he appears to be doing is closer to what Bill Clinton called "triangulating" — declaring himself free to make bipartisan deals when he can find them.
"He's a free-range chicken," former GOP Chairman Michael Steele said this week.
Trump's new tack is clearly a product of his frustration with GOP leaders' inability to pass a healthcare bill on simple party-line votes. But he'll still need help from Republicans to get anything done in Congress
The biggest test will come soon, when Republicans release an official proposal for cuts in corporate and individual income taxes. That's the centerpiece of Trump's economic plan. Schumer and Pelosi have vowed to resist any tax cut for the wealthy. Trump has promised that his plan won't give anything to the top 1%, even though every version of the plan so far does just that.