In a remarkable development Tuesday, President Trump allowed cameras to record an hour-long discussion with congressional Republicans and Democrats on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issue. Long a contested subject, the president gave perhaps his most full-throated support to creating a permanent status for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children that would allow them to remain in the country. But more than anything, what Trump did is tell Congress, “Work something out and I will sign it.”
This appeared to mark a significant shift from Trump’s general anti-immigration stance. Even on the big, beautiful wall, Trump seemed to back off a bit, suggesting that mountains and rivers made the wall superfluous in certain segments of the American-Mexican border. Not only did Trump seem to relent on the size of the wall, he suggested that it need not be a condition for considering DACA’s fate. Rather, he hinted that a clean DACA bill could survive his desk, provided that eventual comprehensive immigration reform addressed border security.
As I made very clear today, our country needs the security of the Wall on the Southern Border, which must be part of any DACA approval.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2018
In many ways, the unexpected live debate brought to fruition something President Obama had promised in the early days of his administration. Obama promised open debate that never quite seemed to happen. Instead, we saw him berate and embarrass Republicans in public meetings. What happened Monday was quite different. Trump heard, recognized, and addressed opinions that differed from his own and allowed for the possibility that they could be included in a law he might sign.
A Moment of Rare Political Fluidity
Underlying this very rare opportunity for the public to watch our leaders hash out policy was the recent assertion in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” that the president repeats himself every 10 or 15 minutes and may be suffering from dementia. What we saw in the White House meeting on Monday was anything but a man suffering from any degenerative disease. Rather, it was a president taking on a room full of supporters, skeptical supporters, and outright critics and running one hell of a meeting.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, not known for being a big fan of the president, credited him as being the person who could get this done and who, in fact, was trying to get it done. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Steny Hoyer, who flanked the president on both sides, were less effusive in their praise. Yet both seemed dumbfounded, unable to disagree with the president on many points, yet reticent to disagree.
Republicans seemed taken aback by the meeting. Some like Sen. James Lankford objected to the idea that Trump would provide a DACA solution without significant give from Democrats. There does seem to be some worry for immigration hardliners that Trump is willing to give this chip away for nothing. That may be so. In fact, given today’s discourse, it seems to absolutely to be so.
In reaction to whether DACA deserves a clean repeal, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former communications director and current TV surrogate, got a bit demure on CNN on Chris Cuomo’s first prime-time show. He said the issue was keeping America safe, not how, exactly, we deal with old immigration problems. It’s a fair answer and in keeping with Trump’s general philosophy.
Reasserting the Rule of Law
In the meeting at the White House, Trump stayed on point and on target. We all know that immigrants do and always have increased the power of America. In the Tuesday meeting, the president reaffirmed this. The attempted attacks from Democrats melted under his approach, one that calls for a merit-based citizenship and rejects the racist notions that immigration hurts America.
The central liberal and Democratic attack on Trump is that he is a racist and xenophobe. Tuesday’s meeting put both suggestions in peril. His willingness to consider all options, regarding immigration, and more than that, his willingness to sign whatever Congress gives him tells the lie of those attacks.
President Barack Obama resoundingly passed the buck on immigration reform. When he had a full majority in Congress, he didn’t address it. Why? Well, there are theories, but regardless, it didn’t get done. Now Trump is going to do it. The situation of thousands of DACA kids is going to be dealt with, not with wispy presidential proclamations, but with an actual law, signed by Congress.
The president has opened the door to something important here. A clean DACA bill would deprive him of a key chip in future immigration debates. But it also might be the right thing to do. If he does it, and sells it to Republicans, it puts Democrats in a hard position forward on the immigration debate.
On Tuesday we saw something new. We saw a president taking a debate live, we saw what Obama promised and never delivered. Far from being embarrassed, President Trump, who some suggest is mentally unfit, led the most substantial and important debate on immigration we have seen in a generation, and expressed willingness to help those caught in the trap of our broken system.
The president deserves credit, but more importantly, we now have to make serious choices. Who do we want here, who do we want to deport, and how do we want to go forward? These aren’t easy questions, but we have a vital and engaged president ready to take part in answering them.