JOHN YANG: But first: Congress returns to work this week facing a growing to-do list. Among the new items, Hurricane Harvey relief and immigration.
To talk about this on Politics Monday, we’re joined by Stuart Rothenberg, a longtime political analyst who is senior editor of Inside Elections, and Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report.
Stu, Amy, thanks for coming in on this Labor Day.
The president is reportedly ready to do something on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The reports are that he’s going to sunset in six months to give Congress time to do something about it.
Stu, let me start with you. What is at stake in this?
STUART ROTHENBERG, Inside Elections: There’s a lot at stake for different people.
At stake for the president and his supporters who want to see action on immigration and undocumented immigrants, for the Republican Party, which could easily be ripped apart by this discussion, and most importantly, John, for the 800,000 undocumented immigrants who think of the United States as their home.
They haven’t known any other country, any other home. The stakes are highest for them.
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes, I think Stu said it perfectly.
And the real question for Congress is, if there were an easy legislative solution, we would have already been there. This is something that has been going through Congress both during Democratic and Republican administrations. The divide in the Republican Party is fierce and it even cost one member of the House leadership his seat.
Eric Cantor of course lost in 2014 after suggesting that maybe Republicans should do more on immigration reform, deal with some of the dreamers and illegal immigration. So this has the potential where it’s politically popular. You see the polling thing trying that the dreamers are a politically popular group of people, but it’s politically fraught at the same time.
The question now in my mind is what happens now that Congress, if this is true that finally their feet are put to the fire, a lot like with the Affordable Care Act, where Republicans had run for years and years and years saying, this is a terrible thing, we need to get rid of it? Now, once forced to deal with it, it was much more difficult, because parts of the bill were popular.
The same may happen with this DREAM Act, where they have been talking about it for years, we need to do something on illegal immigration, put a hard line down, and yet it’s also a pretty popular program.
JOHN YANG: And Congress not being able — or having trouble with this issue is actually how we got here in the first place, is because Congress couldn’t do it, so President Obama did it by executive action.
AMY WALTER: Right.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Right.
JOHN YANG: Stu, it is popular. The polls show people like this program. Is this going to be an easy lift or a heavy lift?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Really heavy, John.
You’re right. Public opinion seems to be on one side of this issue, but the president and his core supporters seem to be on a different side of this. Now, look, the president can always say, I’m not making a decision on the substance here, there are constitutional issues, the executive wouldn’t be able to do this. I’m just kicking this over to Congress to make them make the decision, which is both reasonable and untrue in some respects.
And that’s this, that Donald Trump already has a history on immigration and the Arpaio pardon, sanctuary cities, Muslim ban, Charlottesville. The administration is already seen as not particularly tolerant and open to immigrants and undocumented immigrants.
And so I think for him to say, well, it’s a constitutional argument, I don’t think that’s going to carry the day with many people. He’s going to be responsible for this policy if Congress cannot act.
JOHN YANG: And, Amy, this adds to a list of things that Congress is already facing. They have now got Harvey relief. They have got to deal with the first vote scheduled for Wednesday. They have got to raise the debt ceiling.
They got to — they’d like to pass a budget. They have got to pass spending bills certainly by — to fund the government. And they have got a tax cut.
AMY WALTER: Right.
So it’s the proactive and reactive part. When — the last time we talked before they went into recess, we thought that it was going to be really just a couple of those things, debt ceiling and government funding, and then to be proactive, to get a tax cut done.
That was really their top priority. We can get these other things sort of out of their way. But then Harvey and immigration on top of it makes the tax reform thing that much more difficult.
When you talk to Republicans, their greatest fear coming into 2018 is that they end 2017 without substantive accomplishments and that they have to go to voters in 2018 with sort of a laundry list of they have passed some bills, but nothing that is particularly substantive, nothing that’s really going to energize their base.
So having to deal with a whole bunch of stuff that they hadn’t planned on doing on top of stuff that is already fraught, that’s going to be a challenge. The one thing though that Republicans do want to do is look as if they are competent. Get these little things out of the way that normally trip them up, like the debt ceiling.
And I don’t mean little, but the things that they should be able to do easily, so that they can get on to the more substantive stuff. That was their number one concern.
STUART ROTHENBERG: One thing. I agree with Amy completely. I would just add one thing.
One thing that we have learned about this president is to expect the unexpected. We are talking now as if in the next few months, we know the precise number of issues and what those issues are.
The president has a habit of tweeting, I have noticed. I don’t know if you have noticed that. He has a habit of tweeting, and creating controversies and issues. So, on top of all this, on top of funding of the government and the debt ceiling and DACA and tax reform, there may be two or three other things that develop because it hits the president’s fancy and creates new problems.
JOHN YANG: Well, and also one of the reactive things is North Korea. How is that going to — this is sort of looming over everything. How is that likely to affect…
AMY WALTER: Right.
To Stu’s point, the tweet about it is something that the members of Congress are going to have to react to and the issue just in general. But I do think this gets to the issue really of the president and how people view him temperamentally and whether his temperament can meet the time. Right?
The concern about North Korea now is we don’t really know what’s happening. There is a whole bunch that we learned about this weekend that is very troubling, and whether the president himself, his personality is one that a whole bunch of folks question whether temperamentally he can do well by this issue.
It’s so dangerous. And every tweet carries added significance. And so I think, as we’re watching where the public goes and where Congress goes, it is watching to see, again, if his temperament and his tone fits the time that we’re in.
STUART ROTHENBERG: And I think that, because of this, there is not the usual rally-around-the-flag effect that we normally see when there is a foreign policy crisis.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
STUART ROTHENBERG: It’s not as if there are a whole bunch of Americans rooting for North Korea. No, that’s not the case. Americans are still rooting for the president, for Congress, for this country, of course.
But there isn’t that natural sense that the president has the temperament, the experience, the competence, the forthrightness that we expect from presidents and that get our loyalty and our allegiance.
And so, the president still needs to earn American voters’ trust. And that’s a problem at this point in the presidency.
JOHN YANG: Stu, we have got to leave it there.
Stu Rothenberg, Amy Walter, Politics Monday, thanks for joining us.
AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Thank you.