Conservatives are worried that President Trump’s debt and spending deal with Democrats is a harbinger of things to come — particularly on immigration.
Trump’s surprise move embarrassed GOP leaders and angered rank-and-file Republicans, but seemingly left him feeling positive.
The president has been frustrated by the GOP Congress’s inability to get things done, and Trump vowed this week that he would have a “different relationship” with lawmakers going forward.
He also said the agreement with Democrats marked a new era of “dialogue” in Washington.
In a Friday morning tweet, Trump tweaked the GOP for failing to act on ObamaCare, and urged it to step up its work on tax reform.
Immigration hawks are particularly alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric, worried it could preview a turn on their issue.
At Pelosi’s urging, Trump sent out a tweet this week saying that those impacted by his decision to phase-out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have nothing to worry about. The program provided work permits to about 800,000 people who entered the United States illegally as children.
Later, Trump talked about how he and “Chuck and Nancy” were hopeful that Congress would pass a bill to protect DACA recipients from deportation.
The remarks suggested to many that even if Congress fails to enact legislation, Trump might keep the program alive somehow with executive action.
“I’m concerned, though I can’t say I’m surprised,” said Mark Kirkorian, the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration policies.
Kirkorian noted that the nationalist wing of the White House, once helmed by former chief strategist Stephen Bannon and his allies, had been purged from the administration, leaving only immigration hardliner Stephen Miller in a position of power. Kirkorian is worried about the influence of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, both of whom remain in senior advisory roles in the White House.
“Selling out to the Democrats on nonimmigration issues isn’t likely to hurt Trump much with his voters, since they hate [Speaker Paul] Ryan [R-Wis] and [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] even more than he does,” Kirkorian said. “But if he sells out on immigration … then he’ll be in big trouble. The blame will initially rest on Jared and Ivanka, but every day that he doesn’t fire them will move him closer to becoming Amnesty Donald.”
Trump has continued to call for the building of a wall on the Mexican border, and a legislative renewal of DACA seems only possible as part of a broader bill that would include measures on border security.
Still, the doubts coming from conservative activists underscore how Trump’s surprise put people off-balance.
Ryan and other GOP leaders speculated in the aftermath of the debt deal shocker that it was one-off action.
And Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, sought to reassure grass-roots conservatives he said were confused by the president’s actions during a Friday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“They’re saying — is this president going to cut deals with Democrats from here on out?” said Meadows, who frequently talks with Trump.
“I would suggest that’s not the case based on talking not only to the president but also talking to Speaker Ryan and others,” he said. “This was a unique situation because of the devastation in Texas. Hopefully we can put forth some unique ideas soon.”
But at a Friday press conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s deal with Schumer and Pelosi was not a one-off.
The president would continue to look for ways to work with Democrats, said Sanders, who singled out tax reform and infrastructure spending as areas of possible compromise.
That has conservatives worried that Trump has gone soft or become mesmerized by the positive press he’s received for reaching across the aisle.
“We’re always concerned about whether a politician forgets what got them elected,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which opposes increased immigration. “Frankly, it looks like he already forgot on DACA. It took him eight months to end it and when he did, it was a compromise. … We certainly will be using our members to hold the president to his promises.”
But Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says concerns that Trump will do an about-face on one of his core campaign promises is overblown.
“There’s no evidence he’ll abandon his positions on immigration policy, even if folks like Bannon are no longer there,” Stein said. “Trump is an extraordinarily savvy operator. He knows how to destabilize his rivals and competitors. Look, he didn’t get much love from Republicans in the primary and doesn’t have a reflexive allegiance to them now. He’s a pragmatist and a dealmaker and wants to get things done.”
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) warned Trump to remember who his real friends are.
“Chuck doesn’t want to make America great again,” he said Friday on Fox Business News, referring to Schumer.
“Chuck is never going to be with you to reduce taxes and fix health care and reduce government regulation, and Chuck will never be a good partner for you,” he said.
Some of Trump’s longtime allies feel the president embarrassed himself.
“Schumer and Pelosi are laughing at him,” conservative author Ann Coulter told The Hill.
Trump has been getting hammered by Breitbart, where Bannon returned after his White House work.
The outlet has run a string of stories highlighting Trump’s closeness with “Chuck and Nancy” and in a Friday story declared that “amnesty-for-border-security deal is a long way short of Trump’s campaign promise of an effective border wall.”
Still, Trump has for the most part been insulated from criticism on the right by the abject disgust among grass-roots conservatives with Ryan and McConnell. Anything Trump does to stick it to the GOP leaders is popular in some quarters on the right, at least in the short term.
“Conservatives have been frustrated all year by Congressional leaders showing no real leadership on the issues that won Republicans the majority: repealing ObamaCare, cutting taxes, funding the border wall,” conservative leader and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told The Hill.
“President Trump’s administration has done what it can to implement conservative policies and push conservative nominees, but we’ve seen little progress in Congress,” he said. “I’m disappointed but not surprised by the deal for a short-term debt suspension, because all Republican leaders were offering was a much bigger increase in debt with no policy victories attached. It’s time for Republicans in Congress to get serious about keeping the promises they made to get elected. ObamaCare repeal reconciliation rules expire on Sept. 30, so the clock is ticking.”