On Tuesday, President Trump completely undercut Democratic arguments that he is an insane child, holding a bipartisan discussion at the White House over the Congressional version of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Overall, Trump looked presidential rather than petulant; he even hijacked Low-Energy Jeb!’s line, stating that he wanted to push a “bill of love” by week’s end.
Trump did slip up once, when pressed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) about whether he would support a clean DACA bill — a bill that would legalize status for the so-called DREAMers without funding a border wall or providing curbs on chain migration; Trump endorsed the idea, before walking it back at the behest of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
All of this was rather hard to pin down during the actual discussion. Trump lacks fluency with the language of DACA and legislation more broadly, leading to this awkward exchange:
But overall, Trump made clear that his position was relatively simple: in exchange for DACA, he wanted funding for his border wall, an end to the visa lottery, and an end to chain migration; the Congress could then move onto comprehensive immigration reform.
This has to be Trump’s position; once DACA is off the table, the Democrats have no leverage to give on anything. They might as well sit around waiting for Trump to fail. But because of the urgency for DREAMers, Democrats now have an incentive to come to the table.
In the end, though, Trump isn’t interested in vetoing anything. He’ll sign whatever Congress brings him, and this press exchange was meant to highlight just that. He even said as much:
I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. I am very much reliant on the people in this room. I know most of the people on both sides, have a lot of respect for the people on both sides, and what I approve is going to be very much reliant on what the people in this room come to me with.
Don’t look for Trump to provide a ton of leadership here. He’s already signaled his willingness to give away the store by re-instituting DACA if Congress doesn’t reach a deal by March.
But demonstrating policy expertise wasn’t the point of the exercise. The point was to tamp down extreme talk about his fitness for office. He accomplished that, even if he puzzled his immigration hawk supporters in the process. And those immigration hawk allies should know by now that Trump isn’t going to lead on policy — he’s going to be led. Their best hope for good policy lies with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), not in the Oval Office.