The Daily 202: Immigration failure shows the ideologues are ascendant in the Trump White House

The Daily 202: Immigration failure shows the ideologues are ascendant in the Trump White House

Originally published by The Washigton Post

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: Donald Trump could have gotten his border wall. Democrats were willing to cave on that in exchange for saving the “dreamers.” That would have fulfilled the president’s single biggest campaign promise, and he might have taken a triumphant victory lap.

But Trump moved the goal posts, demanded dramatic reductions in legal immigration and then mobilized to kill a bipartisan compromise that would have given him much of what — until very recently — he said he wanted.

The White House demanded all or nothing. For now, he gets nothing.

Savvy insiders from both parties who have worked on this issue for years were taken aback by Trump’s rejection of the deal brokered by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), which Democratic leader Chuck Schumer pushed many members of his caucus to back against their will.

Then, in a stinging rebuke, only 39 senators voted for Trump’s four-prong immigration framework. He needed 60.

The president’s refusal to accept a meaningful victory, because he wanted a bigger one, is just the latest illustration of the degree to which he has fallen under the thrall of his most rigidly ideological advisers. From entitlements to infrastructure and even Russia, Trump has moved toward the hard-liners who work for him this week.

After Trump purged and then disavowed former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the conventional wisdom on the D.C. cocktail party circuit was that the president would probably move more toward the GOP establishment and perhaps even moderate. That was always wishful thinking on their part. This week has shown it was wrong.

On immigration, domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller — who played a key role in killing the last chance for comprehensive reform in 2013 — has been in the driver’s seat.

“Stephen Miller is an outlier on immigration, he's an extremist and the president — who has turned the keys of the car over to him — will never get anywhere,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complained to reporterslast night.

“A senior White House official,” who wouldn’t let his name be used, had just laced into Graham’s efforts to bring both sides together during a conference call for reporters. “I'm not aware when Lindsey Graham became the chairman of the Democratic Conference,” this person said, calling him “part of the problem.”

This is a far cry from only a few weeks ago when Trump promised to sign any immigration bill Congress came up with. “I will take all the heat you want to give me,” the president told lawmakers during a televised meeting of his quest for a solution, “and take the heat off the Democrats and the Republicans.”

Hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants now face the threat of deportation, starting in just three weeks. Advocates hope the courts intercede to save the dreamers. Several senators are floating the idea of jamming a fix into a must-pass spending bill next month, though they know that could lead to another government shutdown.

“A senior White House official said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to move on from immigration, and the White House is inclined to agree,” Ed O'Keefe, David Nakamura and Mike DeBonis report. “McConnell has told White House officials that there is little appetite in his conference for continuing an immigration fight. McConnell has told others that any bill he could pass in the Senate would be unlikely to earn Trump’s support.”

The budget blueprint that Trump unveiled on Tuesday, which called for massive and politically problematic cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, was the handiwork of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, who co-founded the House Freedom Caucus.

Trump has previously expressed deep skepticism of using public-private partnerships to spur infrastructure development. He’s wanted to spend more than $1 trillion in direct federal money to build new roads, bridges and the like. Yet the plan he unveiled earlier this week calls for the very approach that the hard-liners have prodded him toward over the past year: putting up $200 billion in incentives and investments to spur private businesses and local governments to spend the rest. People involved in the process say that the final product was heavily shaped by special assistant Paul Teller, who was formerly Ted Cruz’s chief of staff and once a top official on the right-wing Republican Study Committee.

In a potentially significant development yesterday afternoon that got little attention, the White House sent out perhaps its strongest rebuke of Russia during Trump’s presidency. “In June 2017, the Russian military launched the most destructive and costly cyber-attack in history,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an official statement. “The attack, dubbed ‘NotPetya,’ quickly spread worldwide, causing billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It was part of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine and demonstrates ever more clearly Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict. This was also a reckless and indiscriminate cyber-attack that will be met with international consequences.”

What’s interesting is that the CIA concluded with “high confidence” last November that this was the case, but the White House waited until yesterday to say so publicly. The defense hawks in the administration have urged the president to take a harder line since he took office, but just last month he refused to implement the sanctions against Russia that were passed by Congress.

The story everyone was focused on yesterday was the horrific school shooting in Florida.

Only a few years ago, Trump advocated for a ban on assault weapons and longer waiting periods to purchase guns. In a book he wrote in 2000, he called out Republicans who “walk the NRA line” and “refuse even limited restrictions.”

In a six-minute address to the nation yesterday, Trump made no mention of guns but instead — as he has after the other massacres that have occurred during his 13 months in the White House — pledged to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”

Around the same time, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — a former Goldman Sachs partner who has donated heavily to Democrats — said that Congress should look into issues related to gun violence. “I will say, personally, I think the gun violence — it’s a tragedy what we’ve seen yesterday, and I urge Congress to look at these issues,” Mnuchin said in response to a question from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.

When it comes to issues like guns, though, Trump is not listening to rich friends like Mnuchin, or his daughter Ivanka, or his son-in-law Jared Kushner. He’s playing to the base. Indeed, the treasury secretary’s spokesman quickly tried to walk back his boss’s comments.

But the hard-liners holding the reins at the White House right now don’t want to focus on mental health either. The budget proposal Trump unveiled Tuesday attempts to cut spending on such care. It also called for slashing school safety initiatives. “Funds targeted for reduction or elimination in the Trump administration's fiscal 2019 request have helped pay for counselors in schools and violence prevention programs,” Politico’s Kimberly Hefling notes. “Such funds were used for mental health aid for students and teachers [following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary]. The budget request calls for a $25 million reduction in funds designated for national school safety activities, compared with 2017. [Trump's] budget would eliminate altogether a $400 million grant program that districts can use, for example, to prevent bullying or provide mental health assistance.”

 

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