Manchin Splits With Other Red-State Democrats, Praises Trump’s DACA Move

Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) talk during a 2014 Senate Banking Committee hearing Photo By (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
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Members of Congress from both parties are furious at President Trump for ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) ain’t one of them.

Manchin, who’s facing a tough reelection fight in a state Trump carried by a whopping 41-point margin last fall, stayed silent for days on the sensitive issue even as his colleagues blasted Trump for his move to end the program that’s allowed 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought here as children to work and attend school legally in the U.S.

On Thursday, he defended Trump’s move in a conversation with TPM while taking the Republican line in calling for a DACA reinstatement to be paired with border funds.

I think it was reasonable what he did, what the president did, in saying it’s the legislature’s responsibility to fix this thing,” Manchin told TPM.

“DACA would be hard for me if there’s not border security. … As far as I’m concerned there has to be border security with it,” he said when asked how he wanted to see the program fixed, while saying the best move for Congress would be to take up comprehensive immigration reform like the bipartisan 2013 bill he supported.

“Border security’s the number one thing. Nothing’s going to pass without border security. So if they think they can pass DACA or anything without a tough border security bill, that won’t happen,” he continued, saying he wouldn’t be happy if a bill to deal with DACA created a pathway to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants.

Manchin isn’t the only red-state Democratic senator wrestling with DACA, but he’s the only Senate Democrat who has decided to bear-hug Trump on the issue show most of the public wants to see resolved with a way to keep the program alive. While three-quarters of voters and a majority of Republicans want to let undocumented immigrants stay in the country, something Trump himself says he wants to happen, that’s a lower figure in places like West Virginia.

Even his two Democratic colleagues who voted against the DREAM Act in 2010 took a stand against the president.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) was one of them — but he blasted Trump earlier this week for ending the program President Obama created after the DREAM Act failed to pass Congress.

He told TPM that Trump’s move was “inhumane” and “quite unnecessary,” and admitted he made a mistake seven years ago when he voted against a bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. He said he wanted to see that bill come up now and would support it — “The best way to fix it would probably to get [Sen. Dick] Durbin’s (D-IL) bill passed” — and said he wanted to see a clean vote, letting border security measures stand on their own merits.

I tried to think back what my thought process on that, and quite frankly it might have been we’d just gotten our… had a very bad election, let’s just put it that way,” Tester said.

While he suggested politics may have motivated him seven years ago, he called accusations that he’d flipped on the issue for political reasons “total bull.”

“I’m doing it because it’s just wrong fundamentally to pull families apart. Maybe that issue I didn’t fully understand in 2010, too,” he said, arguing a clean vote to give young undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship was the best way forward.

At the time, Tester took a ton of heat from liberals who’d worked hard to help get him elected — and felt betrayed by his vote. But they seem ready to let bygones be bygones.

“Tester has pulled a 180 since that terrible vote. At the time I called the it equivalent of taking a baseball bat to a bunch of children,” Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas told TPM. “In the years since when immigration’s come up he’s voted the right way. … I don’t hold any grudges against Sen. Tester anymore.”

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), the only other Democrat currently in the Senate besides Tester who voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, was also critical of Trump’s move and signed onto a bill to give those in the program “clarity and stability,” while Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) long ago evolved on the issue, flipping from a no to a yes by 2010.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), another Democrat from a state that went hard for Trump who is facing reelection next fall, just flew home with Trump and received his praise for being open to tax reform.

She wasn’t in Washington in 2010. But she called it “critically important” to resolve the issue, and said it was “really unfair” that people who had come forward with their personal information and trusted the government to uphold its end of the bargain were now in jeopardy.

The public has clearly shifted in the last seven years — “Things have evolved,” as Tester said — and even a good number of Republicans seem eager to act to get the issue off the table and help young undocumented immigrants keep their legal status.

This post was updated at 5:55 p.m.

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