WASHINGTON – Sometimes the nation's most important news hides in plain sight.
Proof of that fact can be found on the front page of Wednesday's Washington Post, which tells us: "Senators say deal on budget is in sight."
Don't yawn just because it's a budget story. Read it and be glad that, if things work out, Congress will have solved some major dilemmas – how to fund the government and how to raise the debt ceiling – for the next two years. That would free the nation from shutdown showdowns for a good long time, providing a growing economy with some long-term stability, which is no small thing.
Yet perhaps the most important news is what's not in the still-developing deal. There is nothing about immigration, nothing about the border wall, and nothing about DACA, the soon-to-expire Obama-era program protecting nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from the prospect of deportation. Talks on those issues seem stalemated, meaning that program – called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – is on target to expire March 5.
So what's the most important news? Leaders in the Senate, apparently frustrated over the state of the immigration talks, have removed the issue completely from the budget deal. The pairing of those two issues caused a brief government shutdown last month, and keeping them together could cause another one as soon as Thursday. But separating the two issues is a big deal in two ways: Doing so could end the congressional budget stalemate – yet doom the "Dreamers."
It's a hard fact. The nation needs a budget bill; the government can't function without it. But America can function without a border wall, without a permanent solution that gives the Dreamers a long-term path to citizenship.
So it seems the Senate's leaders are doing what is necessary and punting on what's difficult. This is not to say that there will never be a deal for the Dreamers, but the budget deal makes it seem less likely that any such deal will be struck, just because the budget long seemed like the Democrats' best leverage for pushing for an immigration deal.
The wild card in all of this is President Trump, who seems to long to keep the budget and immigration deals paired together – and who even seemed to revel in the idea of a shutdown over the Dreamers. How will the president feel about a budget deal that defers action on DACA? Stay tuned. We'll find out – on Twitter, perhaps.
This sort of complicated, hard-to-decipher bottom line is by no means unusual in the world of politics. Hence this new blog.
"The Briefing" will take a daily deep dive into the news of the day and explain what's really going on, in as short an order as possible. Of course, some days are newsier than others, so there may be days when the Briefing may range beyond the immediate headlines. But in any cause, our hope is to bring the combined knowledge of our three most experienced political reporters – myself, Robert J. McCarthy and Tom Precious in Albany – to bear in a way that makes politics both understandable and fun.
I will be the main writer on the Briefing, which will post in the mid-morning Monday through Friday, save for federal holidays. And I will always end as I end today, with a look ahead at upcoming news and a look at the good reads I found over my morning coffee.
But our main goal here will always be what it is today: to tell the story behind the story.
Talks continue in the Senate on that long-term budget bill, with hopes that it can be signed, sealed and delivered by Thursday, when the current short-term spending bill expires ... President Trump meets with members of the Senate Finance Committee, presumably to discuss the budget talks, and then speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast – which this year is actually a dinner ... House Democrats, stuck in Washington because of the budget talks when they thought they would be at a retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore, "retreat" to the Capitol for a series of speeches from figures ranging from former Vice President Joe Biden to Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York ... Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduce a bipartisan resolution setting up a Senate investigation into how the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics allowed now-disgraced doctor Larry Nassar to sexually abuse young female athletes for decades ...
The Washington Post takes a close look at Christopher Steele, the former British spy who's at the center of the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia ... Meanwhile, Politico tells us that Russia is still at it, still utilizing Twitter to inflame and divide the American public ... ProPublica introduces its new podcast examining President Trump's business dealings ... Vox explains why it's best not to go crazy over the stock market's recent gyrations ... And FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver ponders whether a stock market downturn would hurt Trump's approval ratings.