Monday, June 18, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried very hard to take every possible position on his administration's recent policy decision to seize children from migrant families.

It was a busy day for Trump and his staff, as they tried to contain the growing tide of outrage from all sides of the political spectrum over his new policy of arresting all adult migrants (including asylum-seekers) and interning their children.

1. White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley, 8:30 A.M.: idea that Trump is separating families is "completely false."

On Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade asked Gidley, "Do you think that the message from the media is correct that your administration is separating parents, moms and kids?”

"Completely false," Gidley replied. (Later on in the interview, Gidley took the opposite position, saying it was a "farce" to think that families could be kept together.)

2. Trump himself, via Twitter, 9-10 A.M.: we are separating families, and I hate it, but there is no policy, so "Change the laws!"

The number of tweets that Trump sends out about an issue, and the anger he lets show in them, is usually a fairly good indicator of how worried he is about it. (This is a security problem in its own right.) The six he sent out this morning about immigration were a mix of defensiveness and threats that immigrants would "violently change [the] culture." Ironically, given the original source of that kind of rhetoric, he used Germany as an example. But he continued to insist that the only reason for the sudden upsurge in child seizures was the always-unspecified "laws" that he blames Democrats for.

3. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, 11:15 A.M: "We do have a policy" of family separations, and it's a deterrent.

Sessions, whose DOJ must defend Trump's policy change in court, has been less careful than other Trump Administration members about insisting that the child-separation policy is somehow the result of some long-ago passed "Democrat law." Appearing at a meeting of law enforcement officers, he explicitly said that arresting all adult immigrants and detaining their children in separate facilities was a new change in policy, intended to deter potential immigrants and asylum-seekers.

4. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, 5:15 P.M.: family separations as deterrent? "I find that offensive."

Nielsen, who was rushed back to D.C. to address the press after appearing alongside Sessions in New Orleans this morning, refused to answer a reporter's question about using the policy to "send a message" to migrants and asylum-seekers to stay away. "I find that offensive," she said.

5. Trump himself, 12:15 P.M.: the separation happens because Democrats won't come to the bargaining table.

The Democratic minorities in both houses of Congress have already signed on to legislation that would immediately deprive Trump of the power to separate migrant children from their parents. (Those crossing the border illegally would still be detained pending deportation, but in the existing facilities which are suitable for families and refugees.)

This would be a political disaster for Trump: it would make him look weak, and it would cost him the leverage that seizing children has provided him. Accordingly, at a White House event on space travel this afternoon, he insisted that Democrats needed to give something up in order to pass such a law.

6. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, 5:30 P.M.: There's no quick legislative fix.

Both Trump and his opponents have said that the (non-existent) law Trump says is forcing the child seizures could be fixed in a matter of hours. But the White House is also sending signals that nothing short of a complete re-imagining of immigration law will suffice. To that end, Sanders told reporters that Trump would reject a standalone bill because "We want to fix the entire system, we don’t want to just tinker with it."

Why does this matter?

  • Using the children of desperate people as political leverage is evil.
  • If a president isn't willing to admit what he's done, he shouldn't have done it in the first place.