After a major setback on health care this week, with the Senate delaying its vote until after the July 4 recess, the White House saw an opportunity to change the conversation to one of President Donald Trump’s signature policy areas: immigration.
The stage was set for Thursday to be a big policy day for Trump — his much-anticipated travel ban would go into effect in a form after the Supreme Court lifted stays by the lower courts. In the lead-up to Thursday, a lot of other things were aligning: House Republicans will almost certainly pass two tough-on-immigration bills, which would harshen penalties for deported criminals who reenter the United States and expand US law over sanctuary cities. Trump met with victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in the White House Wednesday. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan commandeered the White House press briefing to share harrowing stories of children dying at the hands of smugglers across the border.
But then the president heard Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski had spoken “badly” of him, and responded by raging on Twitter, calling Brzezinski “crazy” and shaming her for a face lift.
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
The plan unraveled.
"Maybe the intent is to distract from the health care debate," Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) mused about the president’s tweets on CNN.
Immigration policy was supposed to be the distraction. Trump just distracted himself.
Today could have been a big policy day for Trump
Trump’s administration has been lacking policy wins. Efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, while getting closer, have been stuck in circular negotiations since March. Trump’s push to fund the border wall was snubbed by Congress. Tax reform seems stymied in more Republican infighting. Until now, the travel ban has been stalled in the courts.
Outside of pointing to Trump’s Supreme Court appointment in Neil Gorsuch, the White House has been stretching to find clear ways to dictate the conversation in Washington.
But Thursday, the president was set to declare some real victories. Spurring immigration anxiety was a fruitful exercise for Trump during the presidential campaign, and while his administration has been effective in pushing the sentiment, Congress has largely sidestepped the issue, occupied by health care and tax reform.
As Senate Republicans were forced to delay a key vote on their health bill this week, in the House, Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) two immigration bills gave Trump just enough fodder to try to change the narrative to one of his signature campaign promises.
The White House was on track to boost the policy area. On Wednesday, Trump brought Goodlatte to the White House — touting his work of bringing one Trump’s key promises to the forefront of Congress. Trump’s White House speech Wednesday was reminiscent of his campaign rallies:
“Bad people,” he said of criminal undocumented immigrants. “We've gotten many of them out already. ... We're freeing up towns, actually we're liberating towns, if you believe we have to do that in the United States of America. But we're doing it, and we're doing it fast.”
He brought back the “angel” families, who relatives were killed by undocumented immigrants — Americans whose stories he often invoked during the campaign to give voice to his “tough on immigration” stance.
The messaging was focused. It didn’t last long.
Trump and his team can’t help themselves
Trump supporter and conservative radio personality Laura Ingraham had some advice for the Trump administration: Keep on the immigration message, she tweeted Thursday morning.
But the Trump circle backs the president in his feuds.
Already, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders has defended Trump’s tweets, saying Trump wouldn’t be “bullied” by the liberal media. White House director of social media Dan Scavino Jr. shared his own thoughts about Brzezinski.
For months, Trump has decried the media for focusing on the White House scandals instead of the policy. But he and his team know the power his tweets have to dictate a news cycle — the president has admitted it himself.
And right when they had a chance to actually push a narrative that spoke to their base, Trump distracted himself from his own policy wins, because a cable news commentator spoke badly about him.