An Opening in Trump’s Flail?

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Congressional leaders and administration officials on tax reform, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP
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I want to add a few thoughts about what’s unfolding with DACA. But before I do I want to be clear that it is largely or at least for now seemingly disconnected from the fate of the hundreds of thousands of young people President Trump has put on the chopping block. But that could change.

Last night the White House sent out guidance to offices on Capitol Hill that were clarifyingly stark about what we should be expecting. The memo says quite simply that DACA recipients should use their remaining time with work permits and protection from deportation to prepare to leave the United States. No, six months maybe Congress we’ll solve this, no we’ll see what happens. Just you’re leaving.

At the same time, the President himself can’t seem to keep his story straight. The President’s tweet communications have presented his DACA decision as putting the matter into Congress’s lap with the implicit message that DACA is something to be solved. Let me put that more clearly. For diehards like Jeff Sessions and the hardcore anti-immigrants types, this is the solution. There’s nothing for Congress to solve. It’s done. This is the goal. These young people shouldn’t be here. Obama was wrong on policy and beyond his powers providing them with a tentative right to stay in the US. The Trump administration has now righted that wrong and it’s done.

But the logic of the new policy and the messaging from the President is different. At least for public consumption, it seems to recognize that this outcome is a bad one – or at least an unfortunate one – and that Congress needs to step forward and solve it. Now, I noted yesterday that this isn’t really an effort to avoid a bad outcome so much as shift the blame for the bad outcome when it comes. In other words, leave Congress as the bad guy.

But President Trump can’t even leave it at that. In his latest tweet, he says “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!”

Let’s unpack this.

Does President Trump want to end DACA? He seems to see the consequences of ending DACA as something it is incumbent on Congress to fix. He gives no sense that he’d veto such an effort – which is what you’d expect if he were really behind the substance of his decision to rescind DACA. Indeed, he puts it forward as another way he might best President Obama – getting the substance of DACA enacted as law. But the real kicker is: if Congress can’t get it together, he will “revisit the issue.”

This is highly odd. The whole premise is that DACA had no legal grounding. A President had no ability to act in this way. President Obama exceeded his presidential authority. In other words, President Trump now seems to be saying he will go back and try to resolve this matter through a new executive action even though the premise of everything that’s happened in the last 72 hours is that the President has no such power.

Now, at one level, this is just the President’s persistent ridiculousness. While Jeff Sessions and the people executing the policy push forward an ‘end DACA’ plan with a clear message to ‘get ready to leave the country’, Trump is all over the place, seemingly unclear what he’s ordered, what eventual outcome he wants or even what his actual powers are. Mostly that’s cold comfort to those about to see their lives upended. Bystanders get to laugh at the President’s nonsense while hundreds of thousands prepare to be expelled from the only country they’ve ever known. But I’m not sure that is entirely the case.

One of Trump’s cardinal impulses is to hurt people. A secondary impulse is to make deals if he agrees not to hurt people. In other words, a typical gangster. But in this case, he very clearly seems very wary of getting blamed for the human suffering that his actions will cause. This looks like a real opening for those who want to save DACA – or at least the substance of it in legislation – and the hundreds of thousands it has protected.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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