ROBERT COSTA: I’m Robert Costa, and this is the Washington Week Extra.
President Trump’s first State of the Union address included overtures to Democrats, but divisions in Congress remain deep on immigration.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.
MR. COSTA: The president has offered a pathway to citizenship to the so-called DREAMers, those who came illegally to this country as children. In return, he wants money, 25 billion (dollars) to be exact, to beef up border security and get that wall. If legislation is not passed by early March, those DREAMers will lose their right to work and also risk deportation. The administration has made clear that it wants an end to the visa lottery and a narrowing of those family members, spouse and minor children, who would be eligible for citizenship. Democrats say that position, well, it makes a deal impossible.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) The president presents himself as generous toward DREAMers, but he’s holding them hostage.
MR. COSTA: Carl Hulse, our colleague here today, reported this week that “relations between the two parties on Capitol Hill – and between Democrats and the White House – are badly strained if not downright toxic.”
CARL HULSE: And the fight over the FBI memo hasn’t helped, but there is some progress being made on the spending deal that needs to happen. But the immigration they’re still far away, but I think that there’s going to be a bill on the floor in the Senate after next Friday and we’re going to see them fight it out a little bit there. But it’s going to be really hard to come to a conclusion.
And from the State of the Union, the Democrats were really unhappy with the president’s rhetoric on immigration, and they were also unhappy that he appropriated the “dreamer” line, you know. That was one of the big lines from the speech, “Americans are dreamers too.” That incensed a lot of people. We watched that. You know, we were there at the – at the State of the Union. And to see the Democrats just sitting there stone-faced, as we both used –
MR. COSTA: We both used the same word. (Laughter.)
MR. HULSE: – the same word in our newspaper stories, I mean, it was quite a scene. Everyone that I talked to who came out of there was – on the Democratic side was madder than when they went in.
MICHAEL SCHERER: Isn’t it amazing that in a speech about unity, where he talks about bringing people together, he uses that line, which is really pitting – you know, Americans are dreamers too, you can’t be the only dreamers. He’s saying we’re at odds, like our interests are not your interests, DREAMers, and there’s a conflict there.
MR. HULSE: Yeah.
MOLLY BALL: Well, and the – and the principles that he’s laid down for immigration have radically shifted the immigration debate. I mean, having covered this for, you know, the last decade, it has always been – the dimensions of an immigration compromise have always been, basically, you know, some people get to stay here and we spend money on border security. There is whole new element that’s been introduced by the sort of Stephen Miller restrictionist cohort that’s actually about reducing legal immigration, and that’s what they’re talking about with the lottery and with the chain migration changes. That represents a really big departure from any immigration compromise that’s been in discussion before.
MR. COSTA: Rachael, you were at the GOP retreat in West Virginia at the Greenbriar, retreat there. Was any progress made on immigration in those meetings?
RACHAEL BADE: Zero.
MR. COSTA: Zero? (Laughter.)
MS. BADE: Well, first of all, they didn’t have –
MR. HULSE: It wasn’t even on the agenda, was it?
MS. BADE: Exactly, it wasn’t on the agenda. They had zero breakout sessions to discuss their own differences.
MR. COSTA: Why?
MS. BADE: It’s not just Republicans and Democrats that are at each other’s throats on immigration, it’s also Republicans versus Republicans. Senate Republicans are in favor of a more moderate, bipartisan bill which – potentially some border wall money with DACA codification. The conservatives in the House are pushing Paul Ryan to go way further than that. They say the White House proposal, including restrictions on family migration and getting rid of the diversity lottery program, is too liberal for a lot of these conservative House Republicans. It was interesting. At one press conference we had the number three Senate Republican up there with the number four House Republican, and they were standing side by side like you and I and espousing totally different proposals on immigration. So they didn’t talk about it. They sort of buried it. Charlie Dent said it best, a Republican from Pennsylvania who always, you know, says things blatantly; he said we’re like a dysfunctional family, but dad’s drinking again and we don’t want to talk about it, we just bury it under the rug. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: But what happens to the DREAMers? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said – he has promised a vote of some sort on a – on a DREAMer fix.
MR. HULSE: Yeah, I think that, you know, the Senate’s going to have – work its will, as we say in the Senate, right, or that’s the parlance there, and you know, they’ll see if they can get 60 votes. But I’ve been covering this issue for 20 – two decades. They’ve been –
MR. COSTA: Are you trying to compare one decade versus two decades? (Laughter.)
MR. HULSE: Well, I actually I have an extra decade on Molly, which probably makes her feel good.
MS. BALL: Hardly. (Laughter.)
MR. HULSE: But the – but they just haven’t been able to do it because the political dynamic doesn’t work. The Democrats can’t support what the House Republicans can accept, and the House Republicans can’t back the Democrats.
MR. SCHERER: So the interesting question, then, is, who gets hurts worse in November over that? Democrats, especially in the Senate, are convinced that House Republicans will pay the price, and that the chances of the House flipping goes up, especially in states like California –
MR. HULSE: Yeah, but they did learn a lesson in the shutdown, because even though DREAMers are popular as a set, tying them to the government shutdown, the Democrats themselves felt that that wasn’t working politically.
MR. COSTA: Some of the red-state Democrats, they squirmed.
MR. HULSE: Yeah, immediately.
MR. COSTA: We were at the Capitol. They were –
MS. BALL: But you raise the important question, which is what happens to the DREAMers? Their time is going to run out in March. And even if Congress extends that deadline, their lives are precarious until something gets done about this. People are losing their authorization to stay in this country every day. The business community is very concerned because these are their workers, these are people who are in their 20s and 30s, the prime of their working years, going to be losing authorization, you know, by the hundreds or thousands every day if this actually does expire.
MR. HULSE: And the administration says, well, we’re not going to make this a priority, but that’s no guarantee. The president says we’ll just extend it; I’m not sure it’s that easy to extend it.
MS. BADE: Yeah.
MS. BALL: Especially when the criticism was this shouldn’t have been done by the president.
MR. HULSE: Right.
MS. BALL: This shouldn’t have been an executive order in the first place.
MR. HULSE: That’s the hard part. That’s the hard part.
MR. COSTA: Let’s keep focusing on the House because that’s ‒ this point about what really happens if this doesn’t happen. Politically, who pays the price in November? Well, some people aren’t really trying to look ahead to November because they’re retiring. And on Wednesday, Trey Gowdy of South Republican, Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, became the 38th Republican member of the House and ninth House committee chair to announce he will not be seeking reelection this year. In contrast, 17 House Democrats have announced their retirements. Gowdy joins three Republican and one Democratic senator in making the decision to exit Capitol Hill. In a written statement, Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, announced he plans to return to practicing law as he, quote, “enjoys the justice system more than our political system.”
A lot of retirements are shaping the whole state of play for these midterm elections.
MS. BADE: Anybody who knows Trey Gowdy or has covered him for a while knows that this was a long time coming. He has been joking about this for years. He often says he’d rather be home watching Hallmark movies with his wife than here on Capitol Hill. He doesn’t go to the Republican weekly conference, he sticks to himself. Of course, he’s often on TV talking about oversight issues. He’s on the Intelligence Committee so he has been wrapped up with this whole memo thing. But basically, sources close to him have said to me that he is just ‒ he’s sick of the partisan fighting, he feels like he can’t win. He’s either being blasted by Democrats for not going far enough in terms of investigating the Russia ‒ looking into Russia and the Trump collusion, et cetera, potentially, or getting blasted by people like Nunes who have actually also criticized Gowdy and said you need to get onboard with what we’re doing because we’re going to move ahead without you and we need your legal brain on this.
So he’s in an awkward position. He said something to me a couple of weeks ago basically that there was more civility in death penalty cases than there is in Congress ‒ (laughter) ‒ which just shows you where his head is.
MR. COSTA: So if Gowdy doesn’t like ‒
MS. BALL: Well, and the bigger picture of why all of these people are retiring at once, right, is, number one, they think they might lose or lose the majority.
MR. COSTA: Right, that’s really ‒
MS. BALL: Right? They see the writing on the wall. But number two, it’s not fun anymore. And so you see that with Gowdy ‒
MS. BADE: Yeah.
MS. BALL: ‒ that it just ‒ even if you’re the chair of a committee, you get to write the laws, that ought to be the best if you’re in the majority.
MR. HULSE: I mean, the biggest ‒ the biggest thing of the week was when the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, in some ways ‒
MS. BALL: That’s right.
MR. HULSE: ‒ a guy who is going to be chairman of what used to be the premier congressional committee ‒
MR. COSTA: Rodney Frelinghuysen.
MR. HULSE: ‒ right ‒ and he’s not going to run again. And I said that’s quite a statement. When you know these guys are in the cloak room talking about the political landscape, they’re not saying, hey, it looks really good for us this year.
MS. BADE: So I think he might have been pushed out a little bit. There were a lot of Republican, including Republican leaders, who were ticked at him for voting against the tax bill. They had to twist his arm to vote for Obamacare repeal. And he ‒ they couldn’t even have him present to the conference anymore.
MR. COSTA: Wasn’t he just trying to do what he thought he had to do to win a blue state?
MS. BADE: Correct, to get reelection, yeah. And at one point when they were whipping him, they basically said vote for us, vote for this tax bill or potentially lose your committee chairmanship. And I think potentially coming back to Congress, even if he won, and being stripped of that position, it would have been a big embarrassment for him.
MR. COSTA: How big, Michael, is this special election in Pennsylvania ‒ southwestern Pennsylvania, Trump country ‒ going to be? If a Republican loses there, it could cause even more retirements.
MR. SCHERER: It could. You know, the interesting thing about that race right now is that Republicans seem to be paying far more attention to it than Democrats. You haven’t seen yet any of the big Democratic money the outside groups go in, but there’s three or four groups spending literally millions of dollars on the air in a plus-18 seat Republican ‒
MR. HULSE: Yeah.
MR. SCHERER: ‒ to try and hold that seat. I think for Republicans, it’s, like, finger in the dike, it’s all going to go bad if we lose this. Democrats are looking at a pretty lovely map right now and thinking we have a very good chance of winning the House in the fall, do we really want to spend 2 (million dollars) or $3 million here on this race when the other factor here is that you may have redistricting in Pennsylvania now because of the court case?
MR. HULSE: Right.
MR. SCHERER: And so you’re ‒ you may have a totally different race in eight months in that same seat, so you can maybe win in a few months.
MR. HULSE: Bob, you’re from there, you know that’s a super gerrymandered state.
MR. COSTA: Right.
MR. HULSE: And if you end up with fairer elections there, I mean, there’s a lot of seats that the Republicans could lose.
MR. COSTA: Molly, final thought is Vice President Pence, he’s trying to hit the campaign trail, gave an interview to POLITICO this week about how he’s trying to get traditional conservatives and Republicans to come out. Is that the answer for Republicans, based on your reporting? Should they embrace Trump more? Should they go more in the Pence direction? What’s the calculus they’re all making as they figure it out?
MS. BALL: They are all scrambling and nobody knows the answer. And I don’t think that they’ve come to a consensus. I think, you know, the official word from, you know, the party committees and so on is that everybody’s got to run their own race and what works for one district may not work for another district, what works in one state may not work in another state.
My gut, my experience, based on covering past wave elections, particularly 2010, tells me it doesn’t matter. If there is a wave, you just get caught in it. In 2010, if you were a Democrat it didn’t matter if you were running with Obama or against Obama, it didn’t matter if you voted for the Affordable Care Act or against the Affordable Care Act. If you were a Democrat in a district that was any kind of close to vulnerable, you just got swept away. And so I don’t think there is ‒ if we are in for that kind of a wave, no amount of clever strategy is going to save you.
MR. COSTA: Great. Molly, Carl, Michael, Rachael, thanks for being here for the ‒ and thanks for watching on Facebook and on our webcast if you’re watching later.
And just a reminder, if you miss the show or this Extra sometimes, you can always watch it online on our website all weekend long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And while you’re there, take our Washington Week news quiz and test your knowledge of the latest headlines.
I’m Robert Costa, see you next time.