Editorial: Dems should swap wall for immigration reform

The Detroit News

Democrats are squandering an opportunity by taking a no-compromise stance to reopening the federal government, which has been in partial shutdown for more than two weeks. 

They have President Donald Trump where they should want him — in a Let’s-Make-a-Deal mode.

Trump wants to solve the DACA problem, but he also wants to use it as a bargaining chip. This is as good a time as any to put it on the table.

Trump said himself last week that he’d look foolish if he agreed to end the shutdown without securing some funding for the border wall he wants on the nation’s southern border.

So what will he give in return? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer don’t seem interested in finding out. They are singularly focused on defeating Trump.

But there’s a way the Democrats can win big, while allowing the president to save face.

The amount the president is asking for the wall — $5.6 billion — is far less than his original request for $25 billion to $30 billion. And while $5.6 billion is a significant sum, it amounts to sofa change in a $4 trillion budget.

Democrats should be asking what they can buy with that money. If they could get permanent status for the so-called Dreamers, those immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents and are covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, that would be a bargain. 

Trump wants to solve the DACA problem, but he also wants to use it as a bargaining chip. This is as good a time as any to put it on the table.

But he can’t do that unless Pelosi and Schumer come to the table.

The Democratic leaders seem so committed to a “thwart Trump” strategy, as Pelosi characterized it, they they are unwilling to even consider a deal that involves wall funding lest the president be able to claim he delivered on a campaign promise.

There is reason to question the effectiveness of a wall, although border patrol agents who appeared with Trump at a White House briefing last week were convinced it would work. The reality is that the best approach to border security is multi-leveled and would include barriers in some places, other tactics elsewhere. 

It’s hard to imagine the president backing off his demand for wall funding, having taken it this far. But he has sent strong signals that he will bargain.

That may mean that Democrats can get a deal for less than the $5.6 billion Trump demands. Republicans have suggested the president may settle for as little as $2.5 billion.

They could extract more concessions in exchange for the funds. Again, the amount in dispute would be considered a steal if it paved the way for expanding the number of immigrants allowed into the country or a more generous guest worker program.

Democrats could wave those gains as a victory flag, while Trump could soothe his base with enough money to at least start building the wall.

If the goal is to reopen the government, it will require negotiation and compromise to achieve.

If the goal is to keep the nation in turmoil in hopes of scoring a political win, then this shutdown is likely to continue for awhile, and hope that Congress can come together to solve other critical problems over the next two years will be gone.