The Senate is at a crossroads. Fresh off bipartisan agreement to keep the government open, moderate members from both sides of the aisle are preparing to minimize the most radical elements of their own parties.
The enemies of the newly formed bipartisan group in the Senate have three common antagonists. They are: President Trump, Sen. McConnell and Sen. Schumer.
Trump smells blood on the heels of the huge battle to keep the government open. The president will take a very aggressive stance in the impending immigration debate. In a DACA deal he will settle for nothing less than a large down payment on the wall, which the administration thinks is critical to border security. Also he will expect the end of migration immigration and termination of immigration lotteries.
The wall will be the most bloody aspect of these negotiations because it is one of Trump’s signature campaign promises. At this point it’s difficult to ascertain Trump’s flexibility on this issue.
Sen. McConnell has promised to work with both sides to enact immigration reform. His most vehement opponents in the Senate have called him a unpredictable liar (not a great starting point for negotiations). The Senate Leader must try to rein in Trump (doubtful) and the most conservative elements in his own caucus (difficult). Senators Cotton and Cruz could be great impediments to an immigration deal as they both abhor any proposals that offer amnesty to immigrants (an explosive term in this debate). Needless to say McConnell despises Schumer and would like to do anything to shake his leadership position.
The most vulnerable player in this entire process is Sen. Schumer. He has been degraded by members of his own caucus for caving to Republicans. His greatest critics are those Democratic senators who are vying for their party’s presidential nomination. They include: Senators Warren, Sanders, Booker, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Murphy, Harris and Kaine.
After spewing harsh rhetoric Schumer was forced to capitulate to a deal that kept the government open for a few days. He is resentful and it’s now questionable whether he will retain his position as minority leader. A challenge may be forthcoming from Sen. Durbin who is a member of the bipartisan group that negotiated the temporary government settlement. It may boil down to whether Democrats opt for a partisan or bipartisan attitude in the Senate.
An additional issue is that there are ten Democratic senators running for reelection that are from states won by Trump in 2016. A bad immigration outcome, such as no resolution, will severely hurt their chances and will forestall any chances of Democrats taking over the Senate. These senators will be scorned by voters if they believe that immigrant rights are more important than America’s need for border security.
Political careers are on the line so Americans should expect bloody negotiations over the next few days. Exacerbating the situation is an electorate that has the lowest opinion of this do-nothing and partisan Congress. Congressional elections will be won and lost to a large degree based upon the ability of the body to get things done. Anyone who stands in the way of bipartisan efforts will be punished by voters.
My prediction is that the threats by Trump and Schumer, in particular, will be overwhelmed by moderate sentiment in Congress. The president would be wise to allow Senate Democrats to go down the partisan road if they choose to do so.