The ugly anatomy of a Washington morass

A month ago, the disagreement over the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program led to the first gover...

Posted: Feb 28, 2018 9:55 AM
Updated: Feb 28, 2018 9:55 AM

A month ago, the disagreement over the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program led to the first government shutdown in five years.

Today? There's barely a peep from Congress about what to do with the so-called "Dreamers."

It takes all three branches of government to create political limbo. And that's where we seem to be with DACA -- the Trump administration forced by the courts to continue a program it wants to end and Congress unable to pass a long-term fix despite widespread bipartisan support outside Capitol Hill.

It wasn't too long ago that the issue dominated discussion in Washington. Democrats tried to use the government shutdown to force the GOP into action. President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans swore up and down they wanted to hammer out a deal, too.

Congress seemed to be on the brink, determined to do something for DACA recipients and figure out a way to stop the potential deportations of people who had signed up -- giving up their personal information in the process -- for an Obama-era program that would bring them out of the shadows and give them security in society.

Now, DACA and the immigration negotiations, such as they were, feel like a distant memory. Congress went on recess immediately after failing to vote for a single proposal to save DACA, and the focus on Capitol Hill has now turned mostly to gun rights after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, two weeks ago.

So what's changed?

A little over a month ago, DACA was such a big deal that Senate Democrats refused to sign off on a short-term spending bill, causing that brief shutdown, as part of a (quickly abandoned) strategy to get some kind of permanent legal status for those mostly young immigrants on the books.

Republicans said they were on board in principle, but the devil, as always, was in the details. There were Republican requirements for border security measures and Trump wanted to make sure his wall got built.

Democrats had no stomach for shutdowns after all, and they agreed to a longer-term budget bill that didn't include a DACA fix, basically trading away their leverage. In the meantime there were legal challenges to Trump's move to end the program percolating in the courts.

Then on Monday, the Supreme Court decided not to weigh in.

To recap the ingredients of this slow-brewing mess:

June 15, 2012 -- Obama creates the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

September 5, 2017 -- Trump ends DACA, giving Congress six months to pass a permanent fix. He ends the program rather than deal with lawsuits from Republican state attorneys general who say it's illegal. The clock starts ticking to March 5.

January 10, 2018 -- A federal judge in California rules that Trump cannot just end the program for people currently protected by it.

January 20-22, 2018 -- Government funding briefly lapses over the disagreement about how to fix DACA.

February 7, 2018 -- Democrats agree to a two-year budget deal in exchange for a real debate on immigration.

February 15, 2018 -- A bipartisan proposal to beef up border security and fix DACA fails.

February 26, 2018 -- The Supreme Court stays out of DACA fight for now, likely tabling it for a year or more. With the courts delaying any extreme pressure to act, Congress is unlikely to move.

March 5 -- Without that pressure, Trump's self-imposed deadline is guaranteed to come and go.

So we can expect more of the same in the future. If there's not extreme pressure to act, Congress is unlikely to do so.

The details will be different, but you can apply this basic outline to any number of issues that enjoy broad bipartisan support -- 84% of Americans, including 72% of Republicans, said in a CNN poll that they'd like to see DACA continue. That's easier said than done.

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