Donald Trump likes to portray himself as a leader — a decisive figure who gets things done. Nowhere is that more true than on immigration, the issue that made his political career.
That’s the spirit in which he offered an eleventh-hour threat to veto the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress this week (which would keep the government open until the end of September). He claimed he’d veto the bill because it didn’t contain enough money for his wall on the US-Mexico border — and because it didn’t address the fate of the 690,000 unauthorized immigrants facing the loss of their protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018
But then he turned around and agreed to sign the bill anyway, just a few hours later. Which proves the underlying truth of Trump’s immigration stance: His efforts at “leadership” are just temper tantrums.
Trump’s temper tantrums have, time and again, blown up efforts to find a permanent solution for DACA recipients. His last-minute attempt to use them as cover for an impulsive veto threat was transparently bullshit. And what made it all the more insulting was that he used them for a threat that he was inevitably, and quickly, going to abandon.
If Donald Trump cared about DACA recipients, he had better ways of showing it
If Donald Trump is really seriously concerned about a permanent solution for DACA recipients, here are some things he could have done:
- He could have told Congress to pass a permanent solution for DACA recipients in September without winding down the program.
- He could have stuck to his initial agreement with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to sign a bill that offered legal status to DACA recipients even if it didn’t include any increases in immigration enforcement.
- He could have accepted the deal proposed by a group of senators in January, designed to address Trump’s four “pillar” immigration demands, instead of rejecting it for taking too many people from “shithole countries.”
- He could have stuck to his (reportedly) tentative agreement with Schumer to sign a bill that would give citizenship to DREAMers in exchange for $25 billion for the wall over 10 years.
- He could have agreed to support a bill proposed by a different bipartisan group of senators, which ended up getting over 50 votes in the Senate — much more than Trump’s preferred bill got — and almost certainly would have passed that chamber had Trump endorsed it.
- He could have told congressional Republicans at any time in the past several weeks that he wouldn’t sign an omnibus bill that didn’t at least extend DACA protections.
He did none of those things. Whether or not Donald Trump actually cares about the fate of DACA recipients, it’s reasonable to conclude that he cares less about them than he does about getting his way.
Trump just proved that Congress shouldn’t take his threats seriously
For many congressional Republicans, the takeaway from the past several months of immigration drama has been that Trump can’t actually be relied upon to make deals.
He throws out demands, then abandons them without a thought. He says he wants a deal and doesn’t care about the specifics, then rejects a deal because it doesn’t meet his specifications.
This is why congressional Republicans didn’t line up behind the White House over the weekend when it asked for $25 billion for the wall in exchange for three years’ more protection for DACA recipients; Democrats rejected the proposal out of hand, and Republicans weren’t willing to shut down the government over something just because the White House came up with it.
It’s why Congress sent Trump a spending bill that didn’t defund sanctuary cities, which was the White House’s initial line in the sand for threatening a veto: They thought Trump would back down, and he did.
And it’s why Congress didn’t respond to Trump’s eleventh-hour veto threat over the wall and DACA with a scramble to make a deal. They haven’t been able to make a deal on those issues because whenever Trump has said he wants a deal, he rejects the deal in front of him.
Congress bet that this time, he didn’t want a deal badly enough to shut down the government over it — that the passing fancy he tweeted the morning after Congress had voted on the bill would be gone by the afternoon. And they were right.