SAN DIEGO -- Scheming. Backstabbing. Manipulating. Name calling. Political maneuvering.
When did the immigration debate become an episode of "The Apprentice"? You know the answer. It was when we made a reality television star president.
This season, tune in as Democratic congressional leaders -- who have a lot of time on their hands because they're not busy coming up with a message to win back disaffected voters who abandoned their party -- teach President Trump the illusion of the deal.
When Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi went to dinner at the White House, we might have guessed that machinations would be on the menu.
It's always a toss-up between Democrats and Republicans as to which party has been more terrible on immigration. Democrats offer pretty words, but their actions -- i.e., mass deportations -- are often ugly. Republicans counter with ugly words, but their actions -- i.e., George W. Bush's proposed legal status for the undocumented -- can be more attractive.
Now, as a result of the dinner, media reports say that Trump is inching closer to reaching a deal with Democrats that would protect as many as 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation. These are the folks who were dreaming if they thought Barack Obama had their backs. They were gullible enough to meander into a cynical trap, set by the previous administration, when they turned themselves into Immigration and Customs Enforcement in exchange for a two-year work permit and a temporary respite from deportation.
Trump recently upended the immigration debate by rescinding the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But he doesn't seem to have the stomach to deport hundreds of thousands of young people who are more American than many of the native-born.
Hence the talk of a deal with Democrats where the White House would support legislation to protect DACA recipients. In turn, Democrats would go along with more funding for border security on the condition that none of that money goes to pay for Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which could cost as much as $25 billion.
This is a win-win for Democrats, who would love to stick it to the racist wing of the GOP by finding a way to keep the Dreamers in the only country they truly know and love. It's also no big stretch for Democrats to go along with increased border funding. After all, they're the real party of walls and fences and have been since Bill Clinton militarized the U.S.-Mexico border in 1994 through Operation Gatekeeper.
Even the rumor of a deal was enough to put Trump in a corner, forcing him to spend the next couple of days tweeting that there was no deal although there remained the potential of one. He also insisted that the wall was most certainly not off the table, and still very much part of his immigration plan.
Nobody puts Donny in a corner.
The restrictionists on the right-wing wasted no time blasting Trump as "Amnesty Don." Even the nativist writer Ann Coulter, a stalwart Trumpista, appeared to call for his impeachment, while Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, insisted that any deal would destroy Trump's GOP base.
So, in what may have been an attempt to calm his critics, Trump tweeted Friday that he would not support "chain migration" -- which means he opposes the emphasis on family reunification that has guided immigration policy for the last five decades.
What Trump does seem more committed to than ever before is helping Congress find a way to allow the Dreamers to stay in the United States. As he tweeted Thursday, while taking fire from conservatives: "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!"
He added: "They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own -- brought in by parents at young age."
We can't be sure what was said in private over dinner. But, at this point, it doesn't matter. The drama has moved into the open, and the politics are shaking out in very interesting ways.
Trump might well wind up being pushed to the center on immigration, at least regarding the Dreamers. He may decide that the hard-liners are too hard-hearted for him, and end up doing more deals with his old friends "Chuck" and "Nancy."
That would leave Republican leaders out in the cold and inflame Trump's supporters.
But on the positive side, what a great season this could turn out to be. The ratings would be yyyuge.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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