ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It has been a very eventful week in Washington. President Trump rescinded DACA, the program that Barack Obama began to protect the so-called DREAMers. Trump promised further action if Congress doesn't fix it, and he has since tweeted that the DREAMers have nothing to fear. That tweet came after an Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders in which the president took the side of the Democrats. He went along with a three-month spending bill and an equally short raising of the debt ceiling. Republicans had wanted more than a year on both counts.
Here to talk about politics are E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, who joins us this week from Boston. Hello, E.J.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
SIEGEL: And from our New York bureau, Guy Benson, political editor of townhall.com. Guy, welcome back.
GUY BENSON: Delighted to be here. Thank you.
SIEGEL: Let's start with Donald Trump and DACA. Was - Guy Benson, was Donald Trump really so moved by questions of the constitutionality of the executive action that Obama took that he did something that he really disagrees with? Is that what you think happened this week?
BENSON: Well, that's the explanation of the administration. And I think it's persuasive on its face. That's what we heard from the attorney general. It's the explanation that I prefer to latch onto 'cause I agree with it and I think it's correct. I don't know if the president in this case was being a stickler for the Constitution, but it was a campaign promise that he made. And now he's, to use the popular phrase this week, punted it back to Congress. And that's actually who's responsible for making these decisions.
SIEGEL: E.J., what do you make of Trump's public presentation of rescinding DACA?
DIONNE: Well, I think what it shows basically is on this, as on a lot of issues, Trump does not have any fixed convictions and is mainly interested in the impact of various issues. He initially took the position that he was going to end DACA. Then he created this six-month window to kick it back to Congress. But he also said that he loves DREAMers. And then as the policy he pursued became more unpopular and its relative incoherence became clearer, he backed up and said, well, you know, if Congress does nothing, I'll revisit this again. And the exclamation point he put in there didn't sort of get rid of the waffling.
And so now that he's done this opening to Democrats he figures, why not go along with Pelosi and send out that reassuring tweet? I think it's really somebody who cares about how things look and not what he is doing.
SIEGEL: Guy, what do you think? So some of the reasoning here is that the Democrats will now have leverage at the end of this year to actually get a DREAMers act passed, to make something in law that would be the equivalent of the executive action DACA. Can you really believe that after 16 years of failing to pass the DREAMers act that Congress could actually do that?
BENSON: Well, I have very little faith in Congress to do anything. And that's a bipartisan lack of faith, incidentally. Although I will say this. I spoke with House Speaker Paul Ryan yesterday and I was asking him about the dynamics here at play, and he drew a line in the sand. He seems rather eager to follow through on this and pass a version of the DREAM Act. He wants to - and we've heard this from Senate leaders as well like John Cornyn - he wants to attach some border security measures to it.
Chuck Schumer on the other side was looking for a clean bill. But it sounds like maybe there's been some movement among Democrats to be willing to swallow some border security, pair it with the DREAM Act, which has a lot of bipartisan support, and pass it. It seems like a layup to me, but this Congress and previous Congresses seem to blow layups fairly frequently.
SIEGEL: After they punt is what you're saying...
BENSON: Mixing sports metaphors.
DIONNE: They just strike out. Let's be complete.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you, E.J., about this week's argument about - it was about DREAMers. It was about it - it was about DACA. It wasn't necessarily about immigration. The virtues of DREAMers, we heard from supporters of DACA, were that they came here involuntarily. Their parents brought them. They're fluent English speakers. Some are high achievers. That's not necessarily a profile of the other 10 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Is the case for the DREAMers in a way a case against the rest of the people who are here without documents?
DIONNE: Well, I think you're right, Robert, to point out that there is a rhetorical and some might even say a substantive boomerang here. President Obama started with the DREAMers not only because they were the most popular group among those immigrants who are here without papers, who are here illegally, but also because - and this is where I disagree with Guy - he felt that he could move on this within the bounds of constitutionality. A lot of people wanted him to go farther with that executive order, and he decided he couldn't.
But you can imagine that there will be opponents of broad immigration reform with legalization of immigrants in exchange for paying fines and doing other things who will say, well, we can be - we care about these folks and they are here against their will, but we're not going to move on the other folks. And there is within the pro-immigration community a real concern that this kind of argument will emerge to weaken the case for immigration reform. The problem with it is...
SIEGEL: Guy - would you expect that kind of argument, Guy?
BENSON: Well, I think that it's important to recognize there's a qualitative difference. And the reason why they're - I would say DREAMers are particularly sympathetic as a group is because they were brought to this country as children by their families and in many cases have never known another country. That is a situation that is different than being an adult who makes a deliberate decision to violate immigration laws and enter another country unlawfully. So that's part of the reason why I think DREAMers have such a consensus behind them.
And I think E.J.'s getting to a point that's self-evident and correct, which is what to do about the other let's say 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants in this country who don't fall under the category of DREAMers? That's a much thornier, more difficult question. And I would be very surprised to see that resolved any time soon.
SIEGEL: I just want to move on to that meeting in the Oval Office this week in which Donald Trump sided with the Democrats. Here is how Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer described the mood in the Oval Office on that day to The New York Times.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: It's sort of friendly. I mean, the one thing - look, Trump and I have gone at each other for a long time. He's called me some names. But the one thing we've had is we're New Yorkers. We're pretty direct, and we talk right at each other. And it worked.
SIEGEL: And Schumer said Trump called him back the following day.
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SCHUMER: He said, do you watch Fox News? I said, not really. He said, they're praising you. But he said, and your stations - meaning I guess MSNBC, CNN - are praising me. This is great.
SIEGEL: E.J., has Donald Trump discovered his inner New York Democrat?
DIONNE: The Bronx is up and the Battery's down, and who the heck knows where Trump is going? The - first of all, I think that clip is revealing because Trump seems most interested in what is being said about him on the cable shows. I think what we see here is the opportunity Trump missed at the beginning of his presidency. If he could've put Democrats in a box, if he had come out with a big infrastructure program, Schumer then signaled they would have to work for him. Now it's a little late.
And a senior Democratic aide I spoke to today said all he's done in eight months is make the price of cooperation higher. He was feared in January. Now he has these terrible polling numbers. So I don't know where this goes, and I don't think he has the same advantage out of it that he could've had at the beginning.
SIEGEL: And, Guy Benson, in 10 seconds, reaction from Republicans to that - the news out of that Oval Office meeting?
BENSON: Well, as a conservative, I am a bit troubled that the president seems to be seduced by the allure of positive press and praise from Democrats. He might follow through on this in the future with a lot more, let's say, collaborations with them that many conservatives would not be thrilled about.
SIEGEL: Guy Benson and E.J. Dionne, thanks to both of you.
BENSON: Thank you.
DIONNE: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.