Trump Backs Out of the Mess He Made for Himself … Sort of
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Trump Backs Out of the Mess He Made for Himself … Sort of

But How Will He Make Things Right for the Thousands of Children He Took Away?

It was as if the world was suddenly ringing with words you’d never expect to hear from Donald Trump: “I Was Wrong.”

OK, you never heard the words directly, but nothing says “wrong” like a complete backtracking on policy, despite whatever language fudge was dripping from the event.

Let’s just consider that we’ve been living a crisis about immigrant children being forcibly separated from their families that was created by President Trump’s administration, in what seemed to be a bald, attempted lever to get what he wanted from Congress, only to find that there is no consensus among Republicans alone about what to do about the immigration issues.

And while blaming all of this on Democrats and former presidents and sending his people out to deny that there even is a problem of putting immigrant children in cages, the president apparently decided to fix the problem he created—by an executive order that may well violate other federal court decisions.

In other words, so many people found so much morally corrupt about the president’s actions that he finally was forced to move to stop it. There is no other way to say it: The president backed down from his holier-than-thou, anti-immigration slogans, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen at a quiet White House ceremony.

Still, questions about exactly how Trump’s executive order will actually work already are launching a whole new round of cross-currents and dissatisfaction, starting with what is being done to match 2,300 existing separated child detainees (or 12,000 minor adults without parents) with their families. It has been an exhausting week of truth-seeking, public protest and bungled problem-solving on this problem alone.

Even in trying to get what he wants—$25 billion in one lump sum from Congress to pre-pay for construction of his vaunted border Wall plus reductions and changes in legal immigration—the president managed to confuse Republican congressional colleagues about which of two current bills he would back, or both, or neither, to say nothing of sitting down to talk with Democrats, who would have to contribute nine votes to a Senate majority vote for any law to pass.

From all accounts, a White House meeting between Trump and Republican senators over getting his Wall money ended in fury and shouting as the senators present explained how annual budgets work—which involved an annual payment for such a project, not the whole thing at once. Then the president met with House Republicans Tuesday night to discuss the two bills pending—one from immigration hard-liners and one from slightly more moderate Republicans—in a session that sent the congressmen out of the room shaking their heads to understand whether Trump would back both bills or neither.

Among the House Republican leaders, there has been consensus not to advance a bill, which could win the bare minimum of 218 votes, unless that bill met with the approval of the president. The problem all week is that Trump has been less than clear about what he wants. For his part, Trump has insisted against all advice, odds, science, geography, social history and American values, that he will only sign a bill that pays the full cost of the Wall, lowers legal immigration levels, changes visa lotteries to merit-based immigration systems, and ends the practice of allowing relatives of legal immigrants to enter the country as well. He calls these his “four pillars” for immigration.

Among those left dangling in these bills are the legal future of DACA residents—children whose parents had brought them here as children who have lived here their whole adult lives, serving in the military or in law enforcement or as teachers, scientists, and business people. Under the two bills, DACA residents either get no permanent relief or are sent to start a multi-year, no-legal infraction period that could last years before becoming eligible for naturalization.

All week, Trump has insisted that only Congress could end the non-stop show of cruel images; nevertheless, at the end of the day, Trump took the action himself. The executive order ends the separation of families at the border by indefinitely detaining parents and children together, which raises the issues of trying to get around an existing 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention—even if they are with their parents—for more than 20 days.

Details aside, the executive order is a clean-up tool to address a problem that should never have gotten to this point.

For weeks, Trump refused to end his government’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents, saying that the alternative would be to fling open the nation’s borders and allow immigrants who cross the border illegally to remain in the country.

That popular opinion and the constant airing of images of young people held inside chain fencing found the separation issue as morally bankrupt should not be overstated. Trump’s voters have been felt to be so personally loyal to the president as to keep anti-Trump opinion neutralized. I take hope in thinking that there is still enough moral backbone left in the country to get the president to own up to a bad mistake.

The fact is that only extremely bad publicity and denunciation from his own wife and daughter as well as the private sentiments of influential Republicans could make the president see the awful truth of his own machinations.

That is very scary.

Given how Trump conducts government business, it ought to become a lot easier to say he was wrong.

Featured image: This mural is in a facility in Texas holding more than 1,400 immigrant children. The quote is from Trump’s “Art of the Deal” and refers to his failed effort to evict tenants in 1985. 

June 21, 2018