Nothing makes President Donald Trump more convinced that something is a good idea than people telling him he can’t, or shouldn’t, do it.
On Friday, that meant endorsing — as a plan under “strong considerations” — a proposal that the White House had told reporters hours earlier was simply discussed in passing and rejected for good.
On Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that on two occasions — in November and again in February — the White House had tried to pressure Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to deposit immigrant detainees in “sanctuary cities” like the San Francisco district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
As the Post reported, neither push went anywhere — ICE officials, including current acting head of the agency Matthew Albence, raised serious legal, logistical, and political concerns.
And the Trump administration downplayed the idea that it was ever really on the table: “This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion,” according to a statement the White House sent to the Post.
Apparently, though, Trump still loves the idea so much that he tweeted it — claiming, totally contrary to the White House statement, that the plan was still under “strong considerations.”
....The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2019
He proceeded to reiterate the strength of his considerations to reporters later that afternoon:
Trump closes with this: "On sanctuary cities, we are giving very strong consideration to having people, after a 20-day period, because you are not allowed legally to hold them for more than that -- we will move them into sanctuary cities. Thank you very much, everybody." pic.twitter.com/6EwWLQgCzO— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 12, 2019
Trump can’t tweet his way into forcing something to happen — usually
Trump administration officials get a lot of questions from reporters about whether something is being considered, and — largely because of the risk of contradictions like this — they have generally learned to say by default that an option is “on the table.”
Their response to the Post about the proposal to bus migrants to sanctuary cities, in other words, was an unusually strong denial that it was actually going to happen.
That makes sense. The White House, led by Stephen Miller, has spent the past week pushing the idea that a few recalcitrant officials within DHS are keeping the president’s agenda from being implemented — and talking about the agenda they want to see from a post-purge DHS. This proposal isn’t on the list.
And Albence’s opposition to it not only didn’t get him purged, it appears to not have been a concern in naming him the acting commissioner of the agency, replacing Ron Vitiello (who resigned earlier this week, after Trump abruptly yanked his nomination to head the agency permanently last Thursday night).
Both of these are signals that people not named Donald Trump are sufficiently unenthusiastic about the busing proposal to render it all but moot as a possibility.
It’s not even clear what migrants Trump is talking about. According to the Post, the original proposal was to bus Central American asylum seekers from the “caravan” to “sanctuary cities” instead of releasing them after processing at the border. But it’s not totally clear that Trump isn’t also talking about immigrants arrested within the US and currently held in immigration detention — since he often fails to understand distinctions between the two.
Indeed, it’s not easy to understand why Trump wants this to happen.
It’s extremely unlikely that he’s genuinely pushing for this because it would make his political opponents “very happy,” despite the tweet. Presumably, Trump believes the opposite of that — that releasing immigrants onto the streets of San Francisco would cause crime and disruption, or that the people of San Francisco are secretly just as anti-immigrant as he is and would freak out if they actually saw immigrants in their neighborhoods.
The first, of course, only makes sense if Trump believes his own lies about immigrant criminality — but because those are lies, there would not in fact be massive crime and disruption. The second is harder to disprove but certainly indicates that Trump may not understand that a large swath of the public genuinely doesn’t agree with him about immigration — not just the governments of “sanctuary cities,” but the people who elect those governments.
Right now, large numbers of immigrant families are being released into border communities because Customs and Border Protection and ICE don’t have the resources to safely keep them in custody. Those releases are putting some strain on cities like El Paso. But the strain is mostly due to a lack of coordination between the federal government and nonprofits that can care for migrants — or to the government simply dropping migrants off at bus depots. It’s not because the residents of El Paso or Phoenix are afraid of the families being dropped off.
Meanwhile, of course, spending money and time on interstate bus rides for mass amounts of migrants reduces the amount of money ICE has available to detain other immigrants — a budget it’s already burning through too quickly to make it to the end of the fiscal year on September 30 without requesting more money from Congress, which House Democrats will be unlikely to give.
It’s not that President Trump can’t tweet his way to reality. After all, one longtime Trump hobbyhorse (cutting off aid to the countries where most current migrants are coming from) has finally turned into State Department policy; another idea that most in the administration opposed, closing ports of entry at the border, came dangerously close to reality last week.
But that doesn’t happen simply because Trump tweets things. It happens when people who are staunchly opposed to the proposal are removed or sidelined and people deferential to the president given the reins instead.
At present, the question of who is more likely to reflect reality — Trump’s “considerations” tweet, or the White House’s “considered and rejected” statement — is probably best answered by the fact that Trump isn’t considering it strongly enough to be upset that the agency that’d be in charge of busing is currently being led by the person who told the administration last time it was an unworkable idea.