Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) revealed over the weekend that, in a failed attempt to stave off a government shutdown, he met the President’s asking price on funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in exchange for restoring the protections that Trump rescinded last year for roughly 700,000 young immigrants.
“The President picked a number and I accepted it,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. Noting that he still believes a wall is “expensive and a waste of money,” Schumer added that he made the “most generous offer” because it was “the last, best chance to avoid a shutdown.”
“All along the President is saying, ‘Well, I will do DACA and DREAMers in return for the wall,” he said. “He’s got it.”
For the Senate’s top Democrat, this stance is a massive reversal from the position the party has staked out since Trump’s election, when they vowed never to support a new border wall. Just a few months ago, in late 2017, Schumer called it a “damned wall,” a “medieval solution,” and a “Game Of Thrones idea.”
“Senate Democrats are prepared to fight this all the way,” he told the Latino advocacy group National Council of La Raza. “Instead of spending taxpayer dollars on a pointless wall, we should be investing in creating jobs and fixing our infrastructure.”
Even the bipartisan agreement reached earlier this month by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—which Trump also rejected—would have only made a down payment of $1.6 billion on a wall.
While some Democrats say they support Schumer, some remain staunchly opposed to funding for the border wall in exchange for protecting DACA recipients, and appeared shocked that Schumer made the offer.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who in April declared the idea of the border wall “immoral,” seemed incredulous when reporters asked her on Sunday about Schumer’s account of the White House meeting.
“Twenty billion for his border wall? Oh, c’mon,” she said. “They’re on the wrong path if they think that 20 billion dollars …” she trailed off, pursing her lips in frustration. “We’re trying to fight opioids and protect our veterans. None of us are at a table where they’re talking about 20 billion dollars.”
As she moved to call on another reporter, she muttered under her breath: “Is that 20 billion going to come from Mexico?”
A Democratic House aide told TPM, speaking anonymously about the sensitive ongoing negotiation, that there would have been widespread “fallout” had Schumer and Trump actually cut a deal including the border wall. But since Trump walked away from the deal, they’re giving Schumer the benefit of the doubt.
“I think it was more of an effort to see what the White House is willing to move on, an effort to show how unreliable they are,” the aide said. “They ask for something, like the wall, and then they move the goalposts. It’s never enough. So now the American people are seeing that they have no idea what they want.”
The aide emphasized that the “vast majority of members” are still against the wall, particularly those who represent districts that lie along the U.S.-Mexico border. But he noted that Democrats are holding their fire because they want to show they are not against all forms of border security, and in fact embrace bills that would authorize the construction of some new fencing on the border paired with a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
“That’s part of why there hasn’t been an outcry,” he said. “I haven’t gotten furious calls from members.”
Some Democrats, however, offered full-throated support for Schumer’s wall offer, saying it was a price they were willing to pay to prevent the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) went so far as to declare he would build the wall himself if necessary.
“I’ll put together brigades of Democrats to go down with buckets and sand and mortar and bricks and a brick at a time, we’ll free the DREAMers,” he declared Saturday. “We’ll give those young men and women the security they deserve.”
Like the aide, Gutierrez noted that Trump’s rejection of the wall offer was revealing of the administration’s true priorities.
“Remember: this not about a wall. If it were about a wall it would have been settled,” he said. “It’s about ending legal immigration. That’s why they want to go after diversity visas. That’s why they say ‘end chain migration,’ which is really family reunification.”
Yet for Republicans engaged in tense negotiations around bringing the shutdown to an end, Democrats’ offer on the border wall is barely registering as a blip.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) shrugged and gave a drawn-out “eh” when asked by TPM if he was surprised by Schumer’s concession.
“Not really,” he said. “I’m glad he did. I’m not pooh-poohing it. I’m just saying: it’s been a part of what Graham and Durbin had in their bill anyway.”
Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.