Nature and reality confront Trump
WASHINGTON — Amid two gigantic hurricanes, our reality TV president suddenly found himself smack-up against political reality in two of the major challenges he has faced.
Fierce weather in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, combined with Donald Trump’s stern anti-immigration agenda, obliged him to show personal compassion for victims of nature’s unpredictability and at the same time enforce harsh anti-immigrant policies toward 800,000 so-called “Dreamers.”
The latter are undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, who were permitted to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, or DACA, instituted by executive order by President Obama.
The clash was neatly capsulized in Trump’s decision to bring swift and massive federal aid to the hurricane victims at the same time he announced DACA would end, facing the program’s young beneficiaries with eventual deportation to birth countries many had no or little memory of.
Politically, the circumstance has risked sharply undermining the goodwill of Trump’s well-televised expressions of compassion for hurricane victims.
The glib former real estate huckster was caught in a glaring contradiction. After avowing that “we love the Dreamers” and telling them he intended to “go easy” on them, Trump tried to split the difference. He killed Obama’s order, pleasing his anti-immigrant political base, and then called on Republicans in Congress to restore the essentials of DACA by doing it the “right” way, through routine legislation.
Like most Republicans, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions deem DACA unconstitutional. By dangling the possibility of congressional relief, Trump is merely passing the buck to the House and Senate. In the past, Republicans in Congress have cold-shouldered similar legislation, which obliged Obama to take the route the Republicans have labeled illegal.
For once, the maneuver seemed painful to Trump, who is accustomed to using whatever subterfuge is necessary to achieve his objective. But it’s not all certain that congressional Republicans will agree to this easy path to permanent American residence.
The Democratic congressional leaders were quick to seize a suddenly more conciliatory climate on Capitol Hill, linking hurricane relief to raising the federal debt limit briefly for three months, to avoid a government shutdown.
At a White house meeting with the president, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced agreement to combine the actions. “Both sides have every intention of avoiding default in December and look forward to working together on the many issues before us,” they said hopefully.
They added that “we also made it clear that we strongly believe the DREAM Act must come to the floor and pass as soon as possible, and we will not rest until we get this done.” (The DREAM Act is a federal bill that would have established a process for alien minors to establish permanent residency after meeting qualifying conditions. First introduced in 2009, it was repeatedly quashed by Republicans.)
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a co-author of a bipartisan bill to relieve alien minors, called the situation “a defining moment.” Addressing Trump, with whom he has often been at odds on the issue, he said: “You have a chance to show the nation, as the president of all of us, where your heart’s at.”
Dismissing the matter as merely one of procedure, Trump said before his decision: “I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly. And I can tell you, speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right. And really, we have no choice.”
Obama, who had said nothing about the matter until Trump acted, said his rescission “isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, a moral question — wrong, self-defeating and cruel.” Kicking the dreamers out, he said, would not cut the unemployment rate, lower anyone’s taxes or raise anyone’s wages.
In the end, it was a petty and naked denial of what America has always been: a land of immigrants seeking better lives for themselves and their kids and respecting everyone else regardless of race, religion and ethnicity. Trump is trying to please everybody and instead is merely displaying his political insecurity.
Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.