Something truly incredible happened on Tuesday, but it didn’t have anything to do with actor James Franco.
President Trump held a meeting with Democrats and Republicans in the White House to discuss immigration reform — and he let the cameras stay for nearly an hour.
Nothing like that ever occurred during Barack Obama’s time in office. The only time The Chosen One did anything remotely like it was the 2010 Health Care Summit, in which Obama repeatedly interrupted Republicans as he refused to negotiate on any part of his beloved Obamacare. (At one point, he interrupted Sen. John McCain to say, “Let me just make this point, John, because we’re not campaigning anymore. The election’s over.” McCain said, “Well, I‘m reminded of that every day.”)
Watch the highlights of the Interrupter In Chief to see how not to negotiate.
But Trump is a master negotiator. In the extraordinary 55-minute session, Trump let everyone speak — and goes one further by agreeing with many of the points they make. From the moment the president ended Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), he has wanted only one thing: A wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. And because negotiating is his strong suit, he called recalcitrant Democrats to the White House to trade the restoration of DACA for the building of that wall on America’s southern border.
Normally, the press trots in for a few minutes, mainly so photographers can snap a few pictures and the cameras can grab some B-roll for the evening news. Presidents rarely address the media, almost never take questions, and White House staff says “Thank you. Thank you.” very loudly as they usher the media out.
But not this time. Trump let the cameras stay. And stay. And stay.
At the end, Trump joked, “I hope we gave you enough material. Should cover you for about two weeks.”
And indeed it should.
The meeting was a rarely seen insight into how the sausage gets made in Washington, D.C. As with any sausage, it wasn’t pretty. But Trump’s skills were on full display — like them or hate them — and he ran the meeting just as he might one in his many corporations.
Throughout, Trump played the bipartisan card. “I think our system is designed right now that everybody should hate each other, and we cant have that,” he said. “The country is doing well in so many ways, but there’s such divisiveness, such division, and I really believe we can solve that. I think this system is a very bad system in terms of getting together. And I’m going to leave it up to you, but I really think you can do something to bring us together.”
While Trump did not display a mastery of the many nuances of full immigration reform, he did exhibit his true skill — and the one most needed by a president: Facilitate a discussion from the players, in this case top members of the House and Senate, and pledge to support whatever compromise they come up with.
“If we do the right bill here, we are not very very far away [from comprehensive immigration reform]. And if you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat, I don’t care. I don’t care. I’ll take all the heat you want to give me, and I’ll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans. My whole life has been heat. I like heat,” he said to laughter, even from the dour Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic Whip.
“You are somewhat more traditional politicians than me,” he told the group of 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats. “Two and a half years ago I was never thinking in terms of politics, now I’m a politician. You people have been doing it many years, many of you all your lives. I’ll take all the heat you want but you are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform.”
Trump was not always comfortable, sometimes crossing his arms awkwardly across his chest. But he remained in control of the meeting, even when things got heated. When Rep. Henry Cueller, Texas Democrat, said Mexico is already solving the problem by clamping down on its own southern border with Guatemala, Trump stepped in.
“Henry, we stopped them. We stopped them. You know why? Mexico told me, the president told me, everybody tells me: Not as may people are coming through their southern border because they don’t think they can get through our southern border and therefore they don’t come. That’s what happened with Mexico. We did Mexico a tremendous favor.”
When Cueller pointed out that the U.S. is sending Mexico money for the effort, Trump said, “We always give everybody — every other nation gets money but ours. We’re always looking for money, we give the money to other nations. that we have to stop.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is what got Trump elected.
Some Democrats in the meeting praised Trump afterward. “It was more constructive than I believed it was going to be,” Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat, told The New York Times. “I went into it thinking that it was just an opportunity to have a photo op and maybe allow him to demonstrate that he was not the person he was accused of being over the weekend. But I think it was more constructive than that.”
In the course of the meeting, Trump said he’ll support what Congress passes. He also made clear he thinks lawmakers should extend protections to some 800,000 immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children.
“You folks are going to have to come up with a solution,” Trump told the 25 lawmakers in the room. “And if you do, I’m going to sign that solution.”
He won over some stubborn lawmakers, like Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “We feel that we can put together a combination for the future of DACA as well as border security,” said Durbin, sitting to Trump’s right. “We want a safe border in America, period, both when it comes to the issues of illegal migration, but also when it comes to drugs and all these other areas.”
Said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, “I haven’t seen us be this close and having this discussion in quite a few years. … I believe we can get there.”
And for the first time in a very long time, Americans got to see the sausage getting made. It wasn’t pretty, but Trump made sure that the cameras stayed to record the process. The move won surprising praise from CNN, which is on a 24/7 mission to derail Trump’s every move.
“Thank you for allowing that meeting today to be open to our TV cameras,” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer told White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short in an interview. “I think it was very productive, very important. Glad that we got to see the president and the Republicans and Democrats in action. Keep doing it.”
“We’ll keep doing it, Wolf,” Short said.