WASHINGTON – Let me pick up on what happened after that White House meeting on immigration President Donald Trump hosted on Tuesday – the one he turned into an almost hour-long show, with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sitting next to him.
“Welcome back to the studio,” Trump said to the pool reporters at the start of a cabinet meeting Wednesday in the White House.
That was a reference to the wild Tuesday session Trump held with Democratic and Republican House and Senate leaders, including Durbin, seeking an immigration deal.
In a move rare for any president, Trump let the camera-wielding press pool stay for 55 minutes, which Trump transformed into a reality show episode – one with enormous real consequences for DREAMers in danger of being deported.
Trump scored good reviews, hence the remark about the White House “studio” on Wednesday.
The analysis of why Trump let the cameras stay boiled down to this: After questions were raised about his mental stability in Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury,” Trump wanted to be seen running a bipartisan meeting – and that’s what he did.
Trump was flanked at the table by Durbin and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the highest ranking Democrats in the room, which is why they got those seats.
The president set a March 5 deadline for Congress to come up with a legal fix for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Durbin – who founded the movement to protect DREAMers, youths illegally in the U.S. through no fault of their own – is one of the lead Democratic negotiators.
Outside the West Wing after Tuesday’s meeting Durbin told reporters, “My head is spinning with all the things that were said by the president and others in that room.”
The real negotiations resumed in Durbin’s Capitol office a short time later. That’s when Durbin huddled with members of the Senate bipartisan immigration group he’s been working with for months.
That’s GOP Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, plus Durbin.
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, they met again in Durbin’s office, with the addition of Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat.
After that, Durbin shuttled to the House side to meet with GOP House leaders.
There is a short timeline here.
Congress has to make a budget deal by Jan. 19 or face shutting down the federal government – except for essential services.
In the GOP-controlled Senate, spending legislation needs 60 votes to pass. There are only 51 Republicans.
The Jan. 19 spending deadline and the need for 60 Senate votes gives Democrats leverage.
The Republican-run House needs only a majority. But anti-immigrant anti-compromise Republicans could – if there was a deal that could bring in Democratic support – lose the power they have.
If Congress strikes a bipartisan deal on immigration that protects DREAMers, adds to border security (but not a physical a wall), redefines chain migration and includes some visa reforms, Trump may like it – or not.
But if he rejects a bipartisan deal to shore up his hard line base, it’s Trump – not Congress – shutting government down.