Originally published by The Washington Post
THE BIG IDEA:
Donald Trump is either woefully uninformed or intentionally misleading the American people about one of his most consequential decisions as president. Which is the more charitable explanation?
With a trio of temperamental tweets on Easter Sunday and three follow-ups this morning, Trump announced there will be no deal to save the 700,000 “dreamers” whose futures he put in peril by ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He also called on Republicans to change the rules of the Senate to pass anti-immigration legislation with a simple majority and threatened to kill the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico does not step up border security.
The president then falsely claimed that there are “big flows of people” who are sneaking into the United States “because they want to take advantage of DACA.”
In truth, to be eligible for the program created by Barack Obama, immigrants must have lived in the United States since 2007, have arrived in the country before they turned 16 and have been younger than 31 on June 15, 2012. Anyone who came after does not qualify.
Trump’s erroneous musings capture in miniature six features of his presidency:
1) This is the improvisational presidency. There is no strategy. There is no message discipline. There is no process. Every modern White House plans out policies it wants to roll out months in advance. There is no calendar now. No one has replaced Hope Hicks as communications director. “Infrastructure week” has become a punchline. These tweets, which upended the news cycle, clearly weren’t vetted.
2) Trump does not understand how Congress works. He’s demanding that Senate Republicans use the “Nuclear Option” to pass his preferred immigration legislation with 51 votes, instead of 60. In February, though, only 36 of the 51 GOP members voted for the bill that reflected his demands.
Anyone with a sense of history who has thought through the institutional dynamics at play recognizes that ending the filibuster would, over the long-term, benefit liberals dramatically more than conservatives. The left wants bigger government and further-reaching laws than the right, and making it easier to pass new laws would enable that. If only 51 votes are needed to pass bills, Democrats could raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ban assault weapons and create single-payer health care next time they get the majority. Mitch McConnell, who got elected to the Senate in 1984, understands this. Trump does not.
Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador addresses supporters Sunday in Ciudad Juárez. (Christian Torres/AP)
3) The president does not think through the second- and third-order consequences of his decisions. He’s undeniably motivated by a desire for instant gratification. Trump often appears to be thinking more about the next move than the end game. He also seems, especially on Twitter, more focused on scoring short-term political points than worrying about possible costs down the road.
Just like he does not care that ending the filibuster would hurt his adopted party when Republicans inevitably lose control of the Senate in the future, his provocations toward Mexico are generating ripple effects that could eventually make America less safe.
A new poll out this morning from Parametria shows that far-left presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is surging ahead of Mexico’s July 1 election and has opened an 18-point lead, thanks in part to hatred for Trump south of the border. He formally kicked off his campaign yesterday with a rally in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, where he gave a strongly nationalistic speech and said Mexico under his leadership will demand more respect from the American president. “A Lopez Obrador victory could usher in a Mexican government less accommodating toward the United States,” Reuters notes. “Lopez Obrador has backed [NAFTA], but his plan to review newly issued oil contracts sparked worries he will deter foreign investment.” There are also concerns across Washington’s foreign policy firmament that he’d be less cooperative with us on national security matters, specifically drug interdiction.
Trump’s new tariffs, meanwhile, prompted China on Sunday to retaliate against a range of American agriculture products. This will not only hurt U.S. farmers, but it was a completely foreseeable consequence of the president’s decision. White House officials have repeatedly insisted that the president was not starting a trade war. They were wrong.
As he pushes to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement, the president has brushed aside warnings from his own top advisers that doing so will make it much harder to negotiate a deal with North Korea to give up its nuclear program. Trump just doesn’t see the connection.
4) Proximity is power in Trump’s White House.
Most aides spent Easter with their families, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. But Trump was accompanied for the past four days at Mar-a-Lago by senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. The former spokesman for Jeff Sessions in the Senate is the leading advocate for nativist policies in the president’s orbit. More than anyone else, he’s torpedoed the prospect of a bipartisan breakthrough on immigration by encouraging Trump’s base instincts.
Because Trump lacks many core convictions, he’s often swayed by the last person he speaks with before making decisions. That’s one reason staffers are even more eager to travel with him and be around the Oval Office than during a more traditional presidency.
Trump also had dinner on Friday night with Fox News host Sean Hannity and then golfed with him on Saturday. Hannity has long been a hard-liner on immigration, and something he said might have rubbed off on the president.
5) He’s heavily influenced by cable news punditry.
Trump’s tweets refer to a so-called “caravan” of immigrants who are heading to the United States. He appears to have gotten this formulation from a segment that aired on “Fox & Friends” early Sunday morning, which was based on a BuzzFeed story from Friday about more than a thousand Central Americans — primarily from Honduras — who are on a month-long trip toward the U.S. border.
“These migrants are looking to seek asylum from criminal elements back home or slip into the United States undetected,” Alex Horton explains. “Moving in a large group is expected to blunt the efforts of criminal gangs and cartels known to isolate and later rob immigrants, many of whom bring large sums of money to make the long journey north through Mexico.”
Trump embraced the “caravan” branding. As he tweeted Monday morning:
Today is also CNBC talking head Larry Kudlow’s first day on the job as the president’s chief economic adviser, and longtime Fox contributor John Bolton starts next week as national security adviser.
6) Trump is not a reliable negotiating partner because he moves the goal posts.
Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill find the president difficult to work with because he’s inconsistent about what he wants. He threatened to veto the omnibus spending bill the week before last, after saying he supported it, because there was not enough money for a border wall. Then he signed it anyway.
Trump promised to show “great heart” for the dreamers. At one point, he said he’d protect the DACA kids in exchange for wall money. Democrats reluctantly agreed. Then he changed his demands, insisting that they also go along with massive reductions in levels of legal immigration. Now he tweets: “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”
“Time and time again, the president has walked away from bipartisan proposals that are exactly what he asked for,” complained Nancy Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.
A host of lawmakers complained about the way Trump does business in the wake of his latest tweets.
From the retiring Republican senator from Arizona:
There are plenty of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who stand ready to work with the administration on legislation to protect DACA kids who call America home. Let's do it.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) April 1, 2018
A group of 30 Hispanic congressmen:
On Easter, it is important to remember that Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as immigrants and refugees, sought a place to live and work, hoping for a compassionate human response.
— Hispanic Caucus (@HispanicCaucus) April 1, 2018
From a Democratic congressman who represents Northern Virginia:
The mask of deceptions and lies with which Trump has tried to gaslight the country for months just fell away: “no more DACA deal.”
His true position was always anti-immigrant. https://t.co/VLeT6Js1lX
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) April 1, 2018
Potential 2020 challengers to the president also weighed in:
I’ll say it again: this Administration doesn't want a solution for Dreamers. They want red meat for their base. They want to purge America's history as a nation of immigrants.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 1, 2018
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) April 1, 2018