Did the compound expletive President Donald J. Trump used last week to describe Haiti and African countries where he perceives immigrants to be less desirable end with the word “hole” or “house”? Yes, it’s actually come to that. Some day history teachers will have to lecture their students on early 2018 and about how profanely low the political dialogue had sunk. Faced with the urgent need to do something about Dreamers — immigrants who were raised in this country, speak fluent English, hold jobs and in many cases are raising their own families (but were put in jeopardy when President Trump chose not to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) — Mr. Trump and congressional leaders appear today to be at their worst negotiating impasse.
Nobody has yet produced a recording of the now-infamous meeting in which Mr. Trump used a vulgarity — take your pick as to which variant — but it’s pretty clear that he did. Not just because Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said he did but because Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, is reportedly endorsing Senator Durbin’s account, and those who deny the president said, including Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue (both hawkish on immigration policy) have changed their stories over time. And nobody has denied the truly outrageous element of the whole thing — that Mr. Trump used self-described “tough” language to question why the U.S. has to receive so many immigrants from Haiti and Africa instead of getting them from Norway, a country that is overwhelmingly white.
Here’s the good news: The crisis can still be averted. What’s needed right now is for Congress to approve a spending bill — a continuing resolution in the parlance of Capitol Hill — to prevent a government shutdown by week’s end. That’s hardly an ideal way to finance the federal government or make what should be a relatively easy choice to extend DACA protections permanently, but it’s the only realistic path available. Republicans won’t be able to load up this particular CR with a lot of things they want, like funding for a southern border wall or a big increase in military spending, but Democrats must realize they can’t reasonably be shutting down most of the federal government for the sake of immigrants who aren’t going anywhere anyway. The Trump administration’s action on DACA doesn’t go into full effect until March 6, so that’s a fine date for the extension of government funding, too. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has promised that Dreamers won’t be targeted for deportation.
Is President Trump a racist? You bet, but that’s hardly a new development (ask the Mexicans likened to rapists or those who protested neo-Nazis yet were equated to them, and on and on). As outrageous as his “house” or “hole” remarks may have been — and as stunning as it was that the president was not hit by lightning when he dared suggest Friday that Americans engage in community service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day knowing full well that his own agenda for Monday was to play golf at his Florida resort — everybody involved needs to get over it. Right now, the well appears to be poisoned for any immigration related negotiations and not just because of the incendiary language. The real obstacle is that Mr. Trump, who seemed so open to compromise on immigration policy a week ago, quickly trashed the bipartisan Gang of Six compromise — most likely because his most ardent anti-immigrant advisers didn’t like the prospect of the president endorsing a path to citizenship for millions.
Maybe a compromise is possible, maybe it isn’t. But right now, everybody needs to cool off and go back to having rational discussions about Dreamers. Polls show eight in 10 Americans think Dreamers should stay and be given an opportunity to become citizens. The GOP hardliners simply don’t represent the public sentiment on this. Mr. Trump needs to spend less time with the Stephen Millers of the West Wing and more with the Senator Grahams who have a better grasp of reality. If the president follows Mr. Miller’s lead, he’s going to find a lot fewer Republicans in Congress after the mid-term election than if he demonstrates that he’s the deal-maker he’s always claimed to be, someone who can actually reach out to Democrats on immigration in a manner Barack Obama wasn’t able to achieve with Republicans. Isn’t that the victory he’s been looking for?
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