Jared Kushner, a Confident Negotiator, Finds Immigration Deal to Be Elusive

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, was confident in his ability as a good-faith negotiator who could find a compromise to end the government shutdown.

His pitch to Democratic lawmakers was simple: He told them he was the person who could “land this plane.”

Buoyed by his success in helping pass a criminal justice bill, Mr. Kushner, a senior White House adviser, agreed to take the lead when the president asked him to find a way to end the monthlong stalemate. He hoped his experience winning over Democrats skeptical of the Trump administration during negotiations for that measure would produce a similarly successful conclusion.

But negotiating a broad immigration deal that would satisfy a president committed to a border wall as well as Democrats who have cast it as immoral proved to be more like Mr. Kushner’s elusive goal of solving Middle East peace than passing a criminal justice overhaul that already had bipartisan support.

For one, Mr. Kushner inaccurately believed that moderate rank-and-file Democrats were open to a compromise and had no issue funding a wall as part of a broader deal.

“If Jared Kushner thinks there is any daylight between House Democratic leadership and rank-and-file members on this issue, then the extent that he lands this plane it will land in the Alamo,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York.

And Democratic leaders like Senator Chuck Schumer, party officials said, did not believe that Mr. Kushner had the power to circumvent Stephen Millera senior policy adviser to the president. In meetings, they also noticed, Mr. Kushner appeared to prop up Mr. Miller as an expert on immigration, noting that Mr. Miller’s reputation as a hard-liner was out of sync with his reasonable nature.

On Friday, President Trump did what Mr. Kushner had privately insisted was not an option on the table: He folded.

A Shutdown Over Something

Legalizing Dreamers for border money would be worth the effort.

The country is yawning as Washington wrangles over another possible government shutdown this weekend, and no wonder. The fight is over a difference of merely $3.4 billion in funding for border security. If Donald Trump really wants a political fight worth having, and a chance to retrieve his public standing, he’d go much bigger and offer legalization for the Dreamers in return for his money.

At this late stage such a trade isn’t likely. Republicans who lost in November want to get out of town, and Democrats figure they’ll be in a stronger position in January when they run the House. We are left with one of those shutdown spectacles in which the rhetoric is so bitter because the stakes are so small.

.. Another possibility is to pass a continuing resolution through the new year and delay the fight until the next Congress convenes. The gambit is that the politics will be cleaner for Republicans when they can blame Democrats who will then be running the House. Yet President Trump is even less likely to prevail on border funding next year without making even larger concessions.

All of which is a reminder of Mr. Trump’s immigration lost opportunity. With his restrictionist campaign credentials, he was perfectly positioned to strike a deal that settled at least some of our immigration dilemmas.

He had leverage with Democrats on the Dreamers

.. The GOP “compromise” bill in June had $23 billion for border security, but it lost in a rout when Mr. Trump offered only diffident support. Mr. Trump was given bad advice by White House aide Stephen Miller and cable-TV scolds that immigration would be the GOP’s killer issue in the fall.

It killed Republicans all right. The summer brought the family separation fiasco, and no amount of last-minute campaign hype about the caravan from Central America could save Republicans in the suburbs. As Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen told us early last year, an immigration deal would have given him another accomplishment to tout and removed a vote-mobilizer for Democrats. Mr. Paulsen was among the 30 or so House GOP incumbents who lost.

.. Mr. Trump is in far more re-election trouble than he realizes. He has alienated suburban Republicans with the crude way he behaves, and the many legal and political investigations won’t stop until he has left office, if then. He needs to change voter perceptions. A deal on immigration would show he can solve problems that other Presidents couldn’t.

Trump Fired His Most Effective Lieutenant

The outgoing attorney general did more to enact the president’s priorities than any other member of the Cabinet, but that didn’t save him from White House hostility.

The paradox of Jeff Sessions’s tenure as attorney general is that no member of the Trump administration was so beleaguered and disparaged by President Trump, but no member got as much done.

Even as he endured persistent verbal abuse from the president, Sessions steamed forward on a range of conservative social-policy priorities, aggressively reorienting the Justice Department’s stances on immigration, civil rights, and criminal justice, among other issues. In an administration plagued by incompetent and ineffective figures, Sessions was a paragon of efficacy—a distinction that horrified his many opponents, but did nothing to win Trump’s trust or affection.
  • When it came time for Trump to pull the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as he had promised he would during the 2016 campaign, the president got cold feet, but Sessions was happy to be the public face of the withdrawal. It was Sessions who
  • tried to follow through (unsuccessfully) on Trump’s threat to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. It was Sessions who issued new guidance to immigration judges. And, most prominent, it was Sessions who
  • went to the border to announce the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents.
Sessions openly said the plan to split families up was intended to deter migrants, even as other administration officials said otherwise. The policy was met with widespread and appropriate horror, and Trump eventually pulled back—but he had backed the plan before that, and Sessions had followed through.

.. But these weren’t just Sessions’s pet issues. They were Trump’s as well. Hardline immigration policies, giving police free rein, fighting phantom voter fraud—these were all signature Trump projects. Sessions had been the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump, and Trump took from him a range of policy concepts—especially on immigration—as well as a top adviser, Stephen Miller.
But Sessions’s stewardship of those projects didn’t return him to favor with Trump, who, according to Bob Woodward’s book Fear, called Sessions “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner.”

.. When McGahn’s departure was announced in August, I wrote that he’d been the most effective person in the West Wing, through his stewardship of judicial appointments. But Trump disliked and distrusted McGahn, and seemed eager to have him gone.
.. Of course, the same issue poisoned both Sessions’s and McGahn’s relationships with Trump: the Russia investigation, and especially Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s takeover of it.
.. Trump was angry that neither man had protected him. He raged at Sessions’s lack of “loyalty” and complained that Attorney General Eric Holder had “totally protected” Barack Obama. (What he meant by that is unclear.) He twice instructed McGahn to fire Mueller, and McGahn twice refused, once threatening to resign.
.. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker assumes control of Mueller’s probe. Whitaker was outspokenly critical of the special counsel’s inquiry before joining the administration, so Trump may now have a leader of the Justice Department who is more pliable on the Mueller front. But the president is unlikely to find an attorney general who will do as much to move his priorities forward as Sessions did—and the new attorney general will come into the job knowing that loyalty and efficacy aren’t enough to garner favor with Trump.

Stephen Miller’s Biggest Gamble Yet

With less than a week to go before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump is warning darkly of an imminent immigrant “invasion,” deploying thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, releasing a racist ad on Twitter, and threatening to issue an executive order aimed at ending birthright citizenship.

The president has, in pundit-speak, found his “closing argument” for the 2018 campaign season.

.. “The future of the Republican Party should be tapping into … the feeling of belonging and meaning and pride that comes with being part of this whole ‘America First’ movement,” he told me. “There’s something really beautiful about people from all different walks of life … who are bound together by this big idea about American identity, and American unity, and American interests.”
.. Continuing in concern-troll mode, Miller said, “I think one of the big challenges facing modern liberalism is that there’s not a great emotional appeal to an international identity, like a citizen-of-the-world identity.
.. “Look, the current nation-state model is the product of thousands of years of political, social, and cultural evolution,” Miller said. “I mean, it was only recently, in like the last few decades, that people have tried to create an organizing principle larger than the nation-state.” The desire to root for your own native country is “intrinsic” to human nature, he told me. “You see that flag, you sing the national anthem, or you hear your team wins the gold medal … it creates a kind of pride in you that is really hard to translate.”
.. “Find today your most liberal friend, and ask them this question: Who has more of a right to a job in America—a U.S. citizen, or an illegal immigrant? And if they don’t say U.S. citizen like that”—Miller snapped his fingers—“then that means on some philosophical level they find the idea of America First objectionable.”
..  “But the idea of having official membership in the nation-state, and therefore that state has an obligation to protect you”—that was the big idea he believed voters would keep coming back for. Voters feel that connection at a visceral level, Miller suggested, and in the end they would always side with a president offering that appeal.