Yet despite this consensus, the odds remain stacked against legislative action before Trump’s DACA deadline arrives in March. For one, the president has kicked this issue down Pennsylvania Avenue at a time when Congress’s agenda is packed with even more pressing short-term priorities. In the next month, Republican leaders must act to avoid a government shutdown, prevent a debt default, provide relief to regions devastated by Hurricane Harvey, and renew expiring federal programs affecting aviation, children’s health care, and flood insurance. (A second aid package might be needed if Hurricane Irma makes landfall in Florida in the next several days.) Top Republicans have already signaled they might pass temporary measures and drag out the spending fights until December, sucking up even more time and political capital. And beyond these must-pass items, the GOP is desperate to make progress on tax reform this fall after failing in its bid to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The loaded congressional calendar likely is one reason why House Speaker Paul Ryan publicly urged Trump not to end DACA last week. He doesn’t need another tricky assignment from a president who has exacerbated the GOP’s underlying policy divisions. In a statement Tuesday, Ryan voiced support for protecting the Dreamers but gave no indication it would be an immediate priority. “It is my hope,” Ryan said, “that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.” Hope is not a promise, and a spokeswoman for the speaker would not elaborate on how Ryan intended to tackle DACA, or when.
Ryan also alluded to Congress’s fraught recent history on immigration, which is the other major impediment to a quick legislative response. No issue has vexed the House and Senate, or split Republicans, quite so deeply as immigration. Since 2006, Congress has tried and failed to reform immigration laws no matter which party was in power—with Republican majorities under President George W. Bush, with Democratic majorities under President Barack Obama, and in divided government under both.
“If you’re looking at where Republicans have been for the last five years, is anything today different? It’s not clear that anything is,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist who served as a top aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor during the last congressional effort on immigration in 2014. “It’s always been a difficult thing, and nothing in the last 24 hours makes it any easier.”
On Tuesday, there were signs both of how the political terrain has shifted on immigration in the last few years, and how the underlying tensions remain the same. A number of rank-and-file Republicans called for quick congressional action to protect Dreamers. They included lawmakers like Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart who have backed immigration reform for years. “Congress must act immediately to pass permanent, stand-alone legislation to lawfully ensure that children who were brought here by their parents, through no fault of their own, are able to stay and finish their education and continue to contribute to society,” Flake tweeted.