Sep. 06

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Trump Tells Sessions to End DACA in 6 Months

When it comes to delivering bad news, President Donald Trump always gets someone else to do the dirty work. So it was yesterday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DACA program, which protects about 800,000 undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children, will be terminated in 6 months unless Congress takes action. This way, Trump is twice removed from the problem. First, Sessions made the announcement. Second, now the ball is in Congress' court. Of course, it is at least conceivable that Congress does come up with something, in which case a bill that Trump may not like will land on his desk. The decision to sign or veto it can't be outsourced, so if Congress does what he is asking it to do, he'll be back on the spot again. Harry Truman was right about where buck stops.

The Trump administration does not seem to be able to decide on an explanation for why they are doing this. The argument that Sessions made when announcing the decision is that the dreamers are taking American jobs. Paul Krugman has pointed out that this is a specious argument. The dreamers don't have the same demographic profile as most undocumented immigrants, and have little in common with people who swam over the Rio Grande to pick vegetables for wages that few Americans would accept. Most of the dreamers are in their 20s and went to American elementary and high schools, and in many cases, colleges. Krugman also points out that the country is aging, and kicking out nearly a million young people will raise the average age at a time when the country needs more people to do the jobs the baby boomers are retiring from. Not to mention people to pay into the Social Security fund. Dreamers who have health insurance also inject young, healthy people into the insurance pool, something that is sorely needed. Here is a distribution of ages at arrival time and now, from Axios:

Data on dreamers

So, that was Jeff Sessions' explanation. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, by contrast, presented the decision as a valiant effort by Trump to protect the integrity of the legislative branch. It is the job of Congress to manage immigration policy, she argued, "and if they can't do it, then they need to get out of the way and let somebody else who can take on a heavy lift and get things accomplished." This is unusually provocative language, especially given that Trump needs Congress in the next few months if they are to accomplish anything. Of course, what the President is doing—once again—is leaving all of the work to the legislature, and then he will complain when and if they fail to get anything done.

So which explanation is the truthful one? Was this done to protect Americans and their jobs, per Sessions? Or was it done to restore the balance of power between the legislature and the executive, per Sanders? Naturally, the answer is "neither." Trump's primary consideration was, is, and presumably always will be keeping the base happy. With that said, we should not allow this explanation to obscure the fact that there's some serious bigotry in play here. Not just on the part of the base that's being pandered to, but also on the part of the administration. The views of Sessions—who was denied a judgeship in the 1980s based on a history of racist statements—are well known. He has previously pointed to the Immigration Act of 1924 as something to which current policymakers should aspire. This is the same Immigration Act that was designed by eugenicists to keep "inferior" Jewish and Italian DNA out of the American gene pool. It's remarkable how quickly some conservatives will embrace the Theory of Evolution when it suits their needs.

Meanwhile, we should also not allow the explanation that "he's just playing to the base" to obscure Trump's well-established pattern of racism, particularly as regards Latinos. There was the xenophobic speech announcing his campaign, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Mein Kampf (Z has demonstrated this in class on more than one occasion). There was his rebuke of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump deemed to be incapable of ruling fairly because of his Mexican heritage. And Trump expert Michael D'Antonio observes that these attitudes predate The Donald's political career. In a 2014 interview with D'Antonio, for example, Trump declared that "most people aren't worthy of respect" and opined that, "Everything's coming across the border: the illegals, the cars, and the whole thing. It's like a big mess. Blah. It's like vomit." Again, at a certain point, it's no longer "just politics."

Barack Obama, of course, knows the score. He rarely comments on his successor, even indirectly, but on Tuesday he defended his action on DACA and blamed Congress for never enacting a law protecting the dreamers. He said Trump's decision was cruel and wrong. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who often comments on politics, said he hoped there will be legislation to solve the problem. However, he phrased it in the third person, rather than something like: "I will take the lead in crafting legislation to solve the problem." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who avoids commenting on politics when he can get away with it, said: "This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works." However, he was not optimistic that Congress will get anywhere due to deep divisions within his own party and his distaste for working with the Democrats on anything.

The order to end DACA will be carried out by the Secretary of Homeland Security—as soon as Trump gets around to nominating someone for the job and the Senate gets around to confirming the nominee. Assuming Trump sticks to his guns, that is (see below). In the meantime, the acting secretary, Elaine Duke, formally rescinded the 2012 memo that created DACA. The process will be somewhat orderly, with dreamers whose permits expire before March allowed to apply for a 2-year renewal. However, no new applicants may apply to the program.

Of course, a two-year extension will take the current dreamers dangerously close to the next election and, perhaps, the next president. Already, many schools and employers are pushing back against Trump, and are signaling their intent to either ignore the President or to drag their feet. It should be easy enough for them to buy, say, an extra six months if they want to—that is to say, the gap between March 2020 and November 2020. Meanwhile, the whole incident is likely to cause the dreamers, and their friends, and their colleagues, and their employers to become quite active in Democratic politics. With their votes, when possible, and with their time and money, when not. In the end, then Trump may have done more harm to himself and his party than he will end up doing to the dreamers (more below). (V & Z)

Trump Shoots the Hostages

A successful hostage taker tries to avoid shooting the hostages for as long as possible because once they are dead, he has no more leverage to get his demands met. Donald Trump doesn't seem to understand that. He could have used DACA as a bargaining chip, for example, letting them stay in return for tough new immigration laws that let in fewer, but better-educated, immigrants. He didn't do that. He didn't even try. Or he could have said: "I'll sign a bill that allows the dreamers to stay if it contains funding for my wall." Nope again. For someone whose pitch to be president was largely that he was a great negotiator, he seems to be trying to avoid having this tested.

Trump is kinda, sorta hoping that the GOP members of Congress will do the dirty work of horse trading for him, in the form of DACA in exchange for border wall funding. The Democrats aren't likely to make that Faustian bargain, however. Especially since Trump, who, again, loves shooting the hostages, is already backing down on the DACA decision. Presumably in response to the entirely predictable backlash, he Tweeted this on Tuesday night:

Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

There is not a single person in Congress who will read that and reach any conclusion other than this: Trump is not willing to actually kill the program. After all, it's already scheduled to die in six months. "Revisit" can only mean "reprieve." Democrats now have very, very little reason to bargain, if they ever did, and Republicans know they can pass the buck right back to Trump, if it comes to it.

With his flip-flopping, Trump may well have created the worst of all possible worlds for himself, politically. Although this decision was meant for the base, many of them are unhappy about the six-month waiting period, the two-year extensions, and Trump's obvious lack of conviction. Ann Coulter, who is a spokeswoman for Trump's base if ever there was one, has been scorching him on Twitter. A couple of samples:

Weird how Huckabee Sanders obsessively attacks congress. Trump's not going to get out of betraying voters on the wall by blaming congress.

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) September 5, 2017

Millions of voters not only won't vote for @realDonaldTrump again, but will never vote Republican again if they pass this DACA amnesty.

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) September 5, 2017

And, at the same time, Trump is going to be absolutely excoriated from the other end of the spectrum. In the coming days and weeks, expect to see plenty of stories about people who came to the U.S. as toddlers, studied hard, graduated from college, and who started thriving companies and are suddenly in danger of being sent back to a country they know almost nothing about. Maybe you'll hear about the dreamers who risked their lives to help save victims of Hurricane Harvey. Or the dreamers who became decorated war heroes. Most people—other than Trump's base—are going to be sympathetic to these people and will blame Trump. In addition, expect big companies that employ hundreds of dreamers to be fairly vocal about their displeasure with Trump's new policy. And of course, many of the dreamers are Latinos, and the 25 million or so Latino voters might just make an effort in 2018 and 2020 to show Trump what they think of him. It would hard for the Democrats to come up with an issue that might drive large numbers of Latinos to the polls in the coming elections, but Trump managed to do it. (V & Z)

Republicans Have Good Reason to Fear 2018

Many Republicans are quaking in their boots (or shoes, in the case of Republicans not from Texas), and for good reason. The historical data don't look encouraging. Only three times in history has the president been under 40% approval at the midterm elections, and his party lost between 29 and 55 House seats those times. Even with higher presidential approval ratings, the midterms have been bad news. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Lyndon Johnson were in the mid-40s when their party lost 53, 63, and 47 House seats, respectively. House Republicans understand this intuitively, even if they don't have the numbers at their fingertips.

Of course, Republicans are hoping that some great bills pass and that Donald Trump's numbers will improve. They shouldn't count on it. Only two recent presidents have gone up from the 8-month point. Bill Clinton went up by 3 points and George W. Bush went up by 9 points, but Trump is no Bill Clinton and it took the horror of Sept. 11 to improve Bush's score. As far as signing a bill that will boost his score, Trump probably shouldn't count on a health-care bill that 60-70% of the country opposes to do the trick. How about a tax bill? Ronald Reagan got two major tax bills through Congress, and it raised his approval by 1 point. So Republicans who are nervous have good reason to be. (V)

Franken Won't Turn in His Blue Slip

The Senate has a 100-year-old tradition for the procedure by which federal judges are confirmed. The senators from the state where the judge resides are given a blue slip and asked to return it to the Senate Judiciary Committee if they approve of the appointment. Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) has said that he will not turn in his blue slip for Donald Trump's nomination of David Stras to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. This sets the stage for a hugely significant battle in the Senate.

Stras is extremely conservative, in the mold of Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Franken said he is too conservative for the federal bench. If Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decides to abolish the blue slip tradition—and it is not even a Senate rule, just a long tradition—then we can expect more extreme appointments going forward because presidents who might have been worried about a "blue slip veto" won't have to worry about that any more. That means if the president's party has 50 seats in the Senate, he could nominate the Boston Strangler as a federal judge and get him confirmed.

Grassley has been in Congress for 42 years and knows that some day the shoe is going to be on the other foot, with a Democratic president nominating an extreme liberal and a conservative senator from his state objecting. For this reason, he might decide to keep the blue-slip tradition, just as Mitch McConnell has no intention of abolishing the filibuster because he understands this shoe/foot business. Nevertheless, there will be intense pressure on Grassley to ignore Franken and kill the tradition to get Stras confirmed. If it is killed, there will be many new "Strases" to follow, in part because Barack Obama had many of his of his nominees to the federal bench killed by blue slips, which has led to an exceptionally large number of federal judicial vacancies. (V)

Trump Kompromat, Pence Obstruction?

The sourcing on these two items is not stellar, so take them for what they are worth. Remember: We report, you decide.

First, there is the matter of Nikita Isaev, who appeared on Russian state TV and declared that the Russian government should release the kompromat it has on Donald Trump. When the host observed that Isaev seemed to be confirming the existence of such material, he said, "Of course we have it!" There is little question that the interview happened, and that Isaev spoke as reported. However, Isaev is a far-right-winger given over to bluster and bombast; sort of a Russian version of Sean Hannity, if Hannity was a politician. So, just because Isaev says the kompromat exists doesn't mean it actually does, nor that Russia is getting close to releasing it even if they do have it. Still, just the fact that it's being talked about openly is not good for Trump.

Meanwhile, a few legal experts and bloggers have been connecting some dots, and they think Mike Pence may now be guilty of obstruction of justice. After James Comey was fired, Pence made unambiguous public statements that (1) the firing was unrelated to the Russia probe, and (2) that Comey was being terminated on the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein. Last week we learned of the existence of a letter penned by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller that pre-dated the one Rosenstein wrote, and that likely included the Russia probe as part of the justification for firing Comey. Now, it turns out that Pence likely saw that letter. If so, then his two public statements were both lies, and he is now a part of a conspiracy to cover up the real reason for Comey's termination. Hence, obstruction of justice. We're a long way from Pence being in actual trouble, but it certainly does suggest that if Trump is impeached and removed, Pence's path to the White House may not be obstacle-free.

Paul Ryan is a creative man and is surely thinking about some interesting scenarios. For example, if special counsel Robert Mueller reports back that both Trump and Pence obsructed justice, Ryan could introduce a bill to impeach Pence first. If that succeeds, then Trump can nominate a new Veep, but the Senate could refuse to confirm the nomination from an about-to-be-impeached president. Then Ryan introduces a bill to impeach Trump. If that succeeds and Trump is convicted, guess who becomes president? Good guess! It's Paul Ryan. Plausible? No. Possible? Yes. Doing it in that order might be politically easier than impeaching Pence a few days after he got his new gig. There is even some precedent for this: Spiro Agnew went before Richard Nkxon, even though both were crooks and ultimately both were spared impeachment. (Z & V)

Manafort Trying to Keep His Testimony Secret

This one's on much more solid ground than the two stories above. In July, one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was interviewed behind closed doors by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Robert Mueller would very much like to see a copy of that interview transcript, but thus far Manafort is resisting that, through his attorneys.

The two conclusions to be drawn here are pretty obvious. The first is that Manafort must have said something that he knows could get him prosecuted, and so does not want that information in the hands of people who could actually put him in jail (which Congress cannot do). At least, he doesn't want it to get into those hands without him having the opportunity to do some bargaining. The second is that Mueller can reach the same conclusion as anyone else, probably faster than most. This, then, is going to heighten his interest in getting that transcript. And he may just know a few things about how to do it. Experts agree that unless Manafort has pretty ironclad, written assurances that his testimony will be kept private, he's going to be out of luck. Even then, his case is questionable. especially if Mueller issues a subpoena for it. So, Donald Trump should probably be hoping that whatever Manafort said wasn't that bad. (Z)

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