Why Trump Can’t Lead on the Issue of Immigration

During the 2016 election, I eventually gave up trying to track Donald Trump’s position on several issues—most notably immigration. He would say something one day and then contradict himself shortly after that. It wasn’t always clear to me what drove his various statements, but what remained clear is that he was all over the map.

I was reminded of that during his meeting yesterday at the White House with congressional leaders to discuss immigration. As many have reported, he tended to agree with the last person speaking and then ended by saying, “I’ll sign whatever immigration bill they send me.”

So who is in charge of leading the current negotiations on immigration, including whether or not protection for Dreamers will be included in the upcoming spending bill? Apparently Lindsey Graham doesn’t know.

Anita Kumar may have the answer.

Here’s one thing even Republicans negotiating an immigration deal agree on: Trump aide Stephen Miller is hurting their chances of getting anything done.

They blame him for insisting the administration gets approval for an unrealistic number of immigration policies in exchange for protections for young people brought into the country illegally as children. They loathe his intensity when delivering his hardline views. And they accuse him of coordinating with outside advocacy groups that oppose their efforts.

“It’s no secret that he’s an obstacle to getting anything done on immigration,” said a Republican House member involved in the immigration talks.

OK…so that’s more about who is impeding the negotiations rather than who is leading them. But perhaps it explains things like this:

…the one takeaway from Tuesday’s meeting that several Republicans and Democrats confirmed to TPM is that Trump appears to have dropped his demand for a multi-billion dollar wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, instead expressing openness to some form of limited fencing combined with surveillance technology or other security measures.

A couple of hours later (perhaps after consulting with Miller), Trump tweeted this:

Miller is said to be the person responsible for writing the White House memo last October outlining a list of demands that would have to be met in exchange for a deal to protect young undocumented immigrants. The number one item on the list is the border wall. It goes on from there.

The White House document includes several proposals already introduced in standalone bills — eliminating protections for unaccompanied children who are in the country illegally; restricting eligibility for asylum, humanitarian parole and abused or abandoned foreign children; raising fees for visas; reducing legal immigration by placing people with certain skills at the front of the line; hiring thousands more immigration officers, prosecutors and judges; and implementing E-verify, an online system that allows businesses to check immigration status.

According to Kumar’s reporting, those items are now being used as poison pills to derail any agreement.

Some Republicans say Miller has tried to poison the deal with policies he knows will never survive a vote in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority and are constantly searching for Democratic votes. “He’s trying to craft a deal he knows is not viable because he doesn’t want a deal,” said a Republican strategist who has long sought an immigration overhaul.

As a reminder, prior to joining the Trump team, Miller was an aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions and worked tirelessly to stop the Senate from approving the comprehensive immigration deal negotiated by the so-called “Gang of 8.” Prior to the fall of Steve Bannon, the two envisioned themselves on a mission to recast the way immigration policies are viewed in this country. Rather than focus on the needs of immigrants and refugees, they have peddled lies about the threat immigrants post to national security and pitted their interests against those of American-born workers.

With members of Trump’s own team trying to sabotage the negotiations, it is hard to see a path forward on any issue related to immigration. That’s what happens when you have a president who has an affinity for white nationalists.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .