The same afternoon as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, House Republicans failed spectacularly to advance their own immigration bill. Despite the backing of party leaders, the GOP proposal didn’t come close to passing, failing on a humiliating 121-to-301 vote.
Not surprisingly, developments at the Supreme Court eclipsed the legislative fight, and the political world largely ignored the fact that Donald Trump’s ostensible allies had just ignored his instructions on one of the nation’s most pressing issues. But just as the issue started to disappear from the conversation, Trump thought he’d remind everyone of his failure.
After Congress failed to pass a pair of immigration bills in recent weeks, President Donald Trump over the weekend tweeted that he had “never pushed” House Republicans to support either of them. Except he definitely did, in a different tweet, three days prior.
This is a tough one to defend. While it’s true that the president gave Congress a series of mixed signals about the bill brought to the floor last week – a bill that was carefully crafted to satisfy the White House’s demands – it was literally the morning of the vote that Trump published an all-caps tweet urging Republicans to vote for it, making the case for its passage.
Now the president’s position is that he “never pushed” House GOP lawmakers to support the plan. The evidence that he’s lying is overwhelming.
But while Trump’s truth allergy is important in its own right, this specific mendacity carries a broader significance.
In practical terms, one of the problems congressional Republican leaders had during the immigration debate was skepticism from rank-and-file GOP lawmakers: they feared that the moment the vote came and went, Trump would denounce the bill and hang them out to dry in an election year.
And as It turns out, those fears were grounded in fact.
Remember, a week earlier, Trump traveled to Capitol Hill to express his support for Republicans’ legislative efforts. The message he shared with members of his own party was intended to be unambiguous:
Trump sought to reassure Republicans that he would not undercut them if they voted for the compromise bill, which includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
“I’m with you 1,000 percent!” Trump told them, later adding, “I will not leave you in the wilderness.”
Eleven days later, the president pretended he never even asked his allies to support the bill, hoping the public wouldn’t remember what he said three days prior, leaving the 121 Republicans who took his advice “in the wilderness.”
Almost exactly a year to the day before Trump’s dishonest tweet about the immigration bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on MSNBC, “Here’s what I would tell any senator: if you count on the president to have your back, you need to watch it.”
That hasn’t changed. Trump urged House Republicans to vote for a health care plan he later condemned as “mean” and “cold-hearted,” and the GOP president is now distancing himself from immigration measures he asked his party’s lawmakers to support.
This will affect the rest of his presidency, no matter how long it lasts: Trump is making clear to everyone that when the going gets tough, he’ll be the first to flee, leaving his ostensible allies behind.