Trump Is Being Managed So He Doesn’t Get Played

Asawin Suebsaeng and Sam Stein have provided some interesting reporting on  the post-shutdown situation developing at the White House.

With three weeks to go for lawmakers to hit a self-imposed deadline for a sweeping immigration deal, West Wing officials have become consumed with a singular objective: keeping President Donald Trump away from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)…

“If the president and [Schumer] don’t meet for lunch or dinner any time over the next few weeks, that would be the ideal situation,” one White House official noted.

An outside adviser to Trump concurred. “If I worked in the White House, I would make it my mission [for the next three weeks] to keep Chuck the hell away from the president as much as humanly possible,” the adviser said.

That strikes a different chord from the conventional wisdom some liberals have embraced that Schumer is playing with a weakened hand. White House aides and advisors are clearly concerned that the Senate Minority Leader could talk Trump into an agreement that the nativists won’t like. Take a look at the lengths to which they went to ensure that the president didn’t cave to Schumer.

According to aides, Schumer and Trump came close to an agreement over a lunch of cheeseburgers and seltzer on Friday. They talked on the phone again a few hours later.

Shortly after that, however, Trump called again and explained to Schumer that he could not sign off on the proposal even though it addressed some of the president’s own legislative priorities, such as funding for a border wall and changes to the Visa lottery system.

According to the source close to Schumer, Trump’s  chief of staff, John Kelly, stood next to him during the call as the president offered his objection to a deal he had seemed bullish on just hours earlier. It was evident that Kelly was there, the source said, because Trump would continually ask the “General” to recount what specific problems both he and congressional Republicans had with specific elements.

John Kelly had to stand guard during Trump’s phone call with Schumer to ensure that the president kept to their script and didn’t let the minority leader talk him into anything. It is worth noting that the current president, for all of his chest-beating bluster, is very easily manipulated. Eugene Robinson pinpoints why that happens.

Trump has always wanted to preside, not actually lead; and whenever he strays into the weeds of policy, he gets hopelessly lost.

That explains why, on at least three occasions, members of Congress thought they had a DACA deal with the president, only to watch him do an about-face after the hardliners talked him out of it. The first happened last September during a meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, the second was the Graham-Durbin bipartisan agreement, and the final one was came during the so-called “cheeseburger summit” with Schumer last Friday. Since two of those three deals resulted from discussions with Schumer, you can understand why aides want to keep him away from Trump over the next three weeks.

I would suggest that this dynamic also explains why Republican congressional leaders have been saying that, when it comes to DACA, they won’t support anything unless the president endorses it publicly. They know that he could turn on them at the behest of the hardliners just as quickly as he’s turned on Democrats.

Finally, it explains why getting a deal on DACA has been so difficult. Robinson summarizes it this way:

The irony is that coalitions of Democrats and moderate Republicans in both chambers would probably pass stand-alone legislation giving legal status to the dreamers, if McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) would allow such a vote.

Would Trump sign that bill into law? Nobody really knows — least of all the president himself. He’ll have to wait for Miller, Kelly, Sessions and Cotton to give him his marching orders.

The group that includes Miller, Kelly, Sessions, and Cotton is managing Trump in order to use Dreamers to force xenophobic changes to our current legal immigration system, and that has been the heart of the impasse for a while.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.