Trump is now sounding a lot like ‘weak’ Flake on DACA
President Donald Trump has repeatedly blasted Sen. Jeff Flake, one of his regular Republican punching bags, as “weak” on border security.
But Trump, who ran for the White House in 2016 as an immigration hawk, sounds increasingly like Flake, R-Ariz., who has a long history of bipartisan work on comprehensive immigration reform.
Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they came to a preliminary agreement on a concept that would enshrine President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law as part of a package with border-security measures.
The Trump administration is phasing out in six months the program, which shields from deportation qualified young immigrants who were brought into the United States illegally as children. Trump has put the onus on Congress to do its “job” and pass protections for the so-called “dreamers.”
While Trump says he has not abandoned his priority of a U.S.-Mexican border wall, he signaled that wall funding doesn’t need to be a component of a DACA deal.
“It is interesting. He’s come around,” Flake told The Arizona Republicon Thursday. “I’m where I’ve been. If he wants to join me on border security and the Dream Act, that’s great.
“This is where serious immigration reform is: It’s border security, it’s some fix on DACA, it’s some mechanism to deal with those who are here illegally in the broader population, it’s interior enforcement, it’s a guest-worker plan,” Flake added.
Flake, a freshman senator facing potentially brutal primary and general-election fights next year, initially became the target of Trump’s ire last year when he refused to endorse or vote for the GOP nominee and criticized him for his tone and policies such as the border wall.
Flake reopened the old wounds with publication of his book, “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.” It has widely been characterized as an anti-Trump book and probably prompted another rhetorical beating from Trump, who at an Aug. 22 rally in downtown Phoenix ripped Flake as “weak on borders, weak on crime.”
But Flake’s book also argues Republicans should reach out to Democrats to find common ground where they can — just as Trump has been doing with his overtures to Schumer and Pelosi. The Democratic duo also recently made a deal with Trump on hurricane relief, the debt limit and government funding.
One of the examples of bipartisan dealmaking in Flake’s book is his experience with the “Gang of Eight,” a group of four Republicans and four Democrats, including Schumer, who collaborated on a comprehensive immigration-reform bill that passed the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2013.
As passed by the Senate, the bill would have made an unprecedented $46.3 billion investment in border security, as well as provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of people without legal status who had settled in the country and a modernized visa system. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives had no interest in passing it, though, and it did not become law.
Flake said he would be pleased with legislation combining DACA or the Dream Act with border-security upgrades, particularly if it’s “not just one singular, brick-and-mortar, contiguous wall,” which he considers the wrong approach.
“We’ll take it any way,” Flake said. “With immigration reform, I’ve always said we’ll take it comprehensive, we’ll take it piecemeal, we’ll take it any way we can get it. That goes for DACA.”
Trump literally launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a promise to “immediately terminate” DACA, referring to it as Obama’s “illegal executive order on immigration.” But since taking office, he has been more sympathetic toward the dreamers it shields from deportation.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, on Friday said the president “supports the DACA program” and “making a deal on that,” so long as it includes “massive border security” and interior enforcement.
“He’s still 100 percent committed to the wall,” she told the White House press corps. “And we’re going to be laying out what our specific priorities and principles are in that front over the next seven to 10 days, and we’ll make sure that you guys are all part of that.”
Sanders also did not directly answer a question about whether a DACA deal might fall under the White House’s definition of “amnesty” for immigrants without legal status.
Earlier in the week, Trump insisted “we’re not talking about amnesty” with regard to a DACA compromise, suggesting that DACA recipients might be allowed to stay in the country but without a path to citizenship. He also hinted that he might require some sort of commitment from Democrats not to obstruct wall funding at a later date.
“We’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here,” Trump said. “... We’re talking about taking care of people, people who were brought here, people who have done a good job and were not brought here of their own volition.”
Flake said he didn’t consider a no-citizenship plan to be “ideal,” but said he would be willing to go along with it if that was the only compromise that could pass.
He predicted many in the immigrant community would go along with it, too.
“They’d take it as long there was a guarantee that they wouldn’t be deported simply for having crossed the border illegally and that they could have a legal permanent residency without a prospect for adjusting their status,” Flake said. “I could go for that.”