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Chris Honoré: It's the House, not the Senate

Take a step back and recall that in the fall of 2016 the American voters elected Donald Trump and, while in the voting booth, in all their wisdom, made known their wish that the House and Senate should also remain Republican.

And who among them didn’t hear Trump repeat, at rallies and in interviews, that it was his intention to cancel President Obama’s executive order that provided an umbrella under which the Dreamers could find refuge.

Early last fall he kept his campaign promise: Those who were brought to America as children by their undocumented parents would be deported as of March 5 of this year if Congress did not pass legislation giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship. What Trump did was make the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals issue Congress’ problem, not his. In reality, he merely started the clock ticking.

It’s not a stretch to conclude two things: He assumed that Congress, especially the House, was anti-immigration and would expend no energy trying to honor what Obama had promised. Secondly, it was a craven decision, profoundly immoral, knowing that countless Dreamers came out of the shadows and registered for DACA protection and today live with uncertainty. But he, Donald Trump, would have clean hands. It was now up to Congress.

Which brings us to the weekend of the government shutdown when the Democrats insisted that DACA be included in any budget deal. Their intent was to have a “clean Dreamer bill” passed first, arguing that the rest of the budget could then be debated, including health insurance for some 9 million children (CHIP) that the Republicans had allowed to lapse last fall and was running out of money.

In a bipartisan roundtable meeting called by Trump, he magnanimously said he was in favor of addressing the DACA issue as part of budget negotiations. Bring me something from this bipartisan group and I will sign it, no questions asked, he said. He even used the word “love” to refer to the Dreamers. And so Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Lindsey Graham, taking the president at his word, brought him what was called the Durbin-Graham DACA resolution. It was at this meeting that Trump rejected the proposal, stating that immigrants coming from those s---hole countries should not be allowed into the U.S. The result of Trump reneging on his promise was a government shutdown.

The Democrats found themselves having to choose between a shutdown and all it entailed, or holding the line on DACA; it was a no-win situation. Polling showed that if the public had to choose between the Dreamers and keeping the government open, they would choose the latter.

In a final-hour effort, Chuck Schumer went to the White House and told the president that if it took a wall to save DACA, so be it. He offered Trump billions toward a wall and border security. Trump said they had a deal: the Dreamers stay, the wall gets built. Two hours later Schumer received a call from Chief of Staff John Kelly informing him that the deal was off. And so the shutdown began.

The drama did not end until Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrived at an agreement that the government would reopen and remain open until Feb. 8. Meanwhile, McConnell promised he would include the DACA in any proposed budget agreement.

But here is the cynical rub: McConnell can agree to a Dreamer solution, thus keeping his word, knowing that whatever the Senate approves must go to the House. And it is in the House where some of the most virulent anti-immigration representatives reside. Many conservative legislators insist that to grant the Dreamers a path to citizenship is the equivalent of offering them amnesty, a word that is anathema to many on the right.

One scenario that could play out is that Paul Ryan et al. will reject any legislation that includes DACA. He may refuse to even bring it to the floor for a House vote. McConnell will smile as he glances over at Schumer. He did, after all, keep his word. Your move, Schumer.

— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.