As Kushner reaches out to Congress on shutdown, 'DACA for the wall' deal gains steam

Hunter Walker and Jon Ward
Hunter Walker and Jon Ward

WASHINGTON — As the government shutdown drags on, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is having discussions with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle about a potential path forward. A Republican Senate staffer confirmed Kushner reached out to their office and added that a “DACA for the wall” deal was part of the conversation.

The outreach comes as some lawmakers have focused on the idea of a shutdown solution that would involve some form of reinstatement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in exchange for President Trump’s desired border security funding.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22 as Trump demanded over $5 billion to build about 234 miles of “steel barrier” along the southern border. Democrats have said they will not approve the funding and argued that a border wall, which was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises, would be too costly, unnecessary and ineffective.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

DACA is a policy that was put in place by President Barack Obama in 2012 that protects from deportation some young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Trump ended DACA in September 2017. Since then, the future of the children covered by the policy has remained uncertain amid ongoing legal battles.

In dueling television addresses Tuesday night, Trump and the Democratic congressional leadership each made their cases, with the president arguing there is a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border” that would be eased by a barrier. Immediately following, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of “forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall.”

Trump, Schumer and Pelosi followed their televised appeals with a contentious meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

In an attempt at a compromise, Trump last week tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead a team that included Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, to talk with a Democratic congressional delegation. The two groups met last weekend, but there was little progress.

The National Gallery of Art is closed during the federal government partial shutdown. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

There have been rumors that Kushner supports a potential “DACA for the wall” deal, however, a source close to Kushner stressed to Yahoo News that he is merely sounding out members of Congress and isn’t backing any specific approach.

“He’s listening to their opinions and is not specifically pushing any policy,” the source said of Kushner’s conversations with members of Congress.

A Democratic Senate source told Yahoo News that Kushner has tried to leverage a bipartisan network he developed this last year. “Kushner is looking to exercise his newfound relationships from criminal justice reform to negotiate out of the shutdown,” the source said.

Indeed, some of the senators Kushner has met with to discuss the shutdown were backers of criminal justice reform, including Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Durbin’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about his communication with Kushner.

Compromises involving DACA protections in exchange for border wall funding have been on the table in the past. In February 2018, the Senate shot down three measures, including a Trump-backed plan that paired DACA protections with strict curbs on legal immigration. The proposal Trump supported was rejected by a large bipartisan group of senators. At the same time, Trump and conservative senators opposed bipartisan plans, including one that would have provided about $25 billion for border security over a decade. Trump has asked for more immediate border security funding.

Speaking at the White House last week, Trump suggested he was also close to reaching a deal with Democrats last November to protect DACA in exchange for wall funding. Trump said that fell apart when a federal appeals court blocked his plan to end DACA. Fact checkers have disputed similar claims from Trump that court rulings prevented a DACA deal by citing his prior opposition to compromises based on protections for young immigrants.

Multiple members of Congress are now revisiting the idea as a potential exit from the shutdown.

Manchin discussed his conversation with Kushner in an interview with MSNBC that aired on Tuesday. According to Manchin, he urged Kushner to craft a shutdown compromise based on the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support but failed when the Republican House leadership would not bring it to the floor for a vote.

“That would take care of it. That would calm everybody,” Manchin said of his proposal.

The 2013 Senate bill went even further than DACA and included a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented youth.

According to Manchin, Kushner responded to the suggestion of revisiting the 2013 bill by emphasizing Trump’s insistence on border wall funding.

“He just says, ‘Well, let’s see, the president is pretty much committed to where they are right now,’” Manchin said of Kushner.

Indeed, the source close to Kushner said he has delivered a simple message in his conversations with senators, which is that “the president is really committed to his position and desire for wall funding.”

Kushner may not be calling for a “DACA for the wall” deal, but some of the senators who have been in talks with him are leading voices for bipartisan immigration reform. Both Durbin and Graham were members of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who led the push for the 2013 legislation. Graham has been pushing for a “DACA for the wall” deal for months. Last week, Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told Yahoo News that he’s had “dozens” of conversations with Graham about a potential DACA deal.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Graham has formed a working group to “discuss a broader immigration deal” involving legal work permits for people eligible for DACA protections in exchange for $25 billion in border security funding, according to NBC News. Graham’s group, which consists of Republican senators, met for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, and Kushner was in attendance. NBC reported that Graham has also met privately with Manchin.

When asked if Graham is working with Kushner on a potential “DACA for the wall” compromise, the South Carolina senator’s office directed Yahoo News to comments Graham made when speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday. At the time, Graham said he was pursuing a deal that would include the “border security funding” Trump wants and “add some things to the mix that could draw some bipartisan support.”

“It’s in its infant stages. No commitment by anybody, but I’m somewhat hopeful that maybe there’s a way to get what the president wants in a fashion that would do the least amount of damage to the country as possible,” Graham said.

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