It started with reporting from the Washington Post and NBC News that seemed hard to believe: Donald Trump’s White House has engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to “release detainees onto the streets of ‘sanctuary cities’ to retaliate against President Trump’s political adversaries.”
As we discussed on Friday, according to the purported plan, the White House envisioned a system in which officials would detain immigrants and then transport them to targeted “Democratic strongholds,” including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco.
Within hours, the story turned farcical. The White House said the plan was discarded and dead; Trump said the opposite. Administration officials said the plan was illegal and impractical; Trump said the opposite. The president even proceeded to lie publicly about official responses to his childish gambit.
The New York Times reported this morning, meanwhile, that Trump only started pushing this absurdity “in part, people close to him said, to distract from” the release of the redacted Mueller report.
And while that should effectively end this bizarre conversation, such as it is, there was one other related point that’s worth acknowledging before we collectively move on. I’ve seen a handful of people make the observation, but Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum summarized it nicely:
Trump would be loudly proclaiming that if you come to the United States to seek asylum, we will put you into a comfy American bus and send you to a city where you will be given food and shelter. Everyone there will try to help you find work and provide lawyers to help with your asylum request.
Exactly. On the one hand, the president wants fewer people trying to enter the United States through the southern border. On the other, he’s now aggressively and publicly talking up a policy in which his administration would transport new arrivals – for free – to diverse and welcoming American cities, with large immigrant communities.
And after initially making clear that this idea would never actually be implemented, Trump and his team are now reading from the same script, raising the possibility that the administration is unhinged enough to actually give this a try.
Hogan Gidley, who initially said this nonsense had already been rejected within the administration, told a national television audience over the weekend that the Trump administration is currently working on steps to “make sure” this policy actually “happens.”
Even if cooler heads prevail and the idea quietly goes away – a distinct possibility, to be sure – this discussion and the eagerness with which the president has promoted it may very well reach the ears of desperate Central American families, who may suddenly have a new incentive to embark on a risky journey to the United States.
As border conditions grow more serious, Trump has already faced accusations of making matters worse. The Republican now seems eager to prove his critics right.