Donald Trump, concerned about conditions at the U.S./Mexico border, this morning published a familiar refrain on Twitter.
“Congress should come back to D.C. now and FIX THE IMMIGRATION LAWS!”
I’m not entirely sure why he’s insisting that lawmakers “come back to D.C. now” since Congress is already scheduled to be in session today, and House and Senate members will be on Capitol Hill.
But it’s the larger point that struck me as notable: the president believes the nation’s immigration laws are in need of reform, and he wants lawmakers to take up the issue. At face value, that’s not an unreasonable position. Indeed, Trump’s two most recent predecessors – one Democrat, one Republican – also pushed Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform. Both efforts failed in the face of intractable GOP opposition.
But both the Bush administration and the Obama administration championed specific legislative proposals, which the respective White House teams helped write, shape, and lobby on behalf of. Both presidents were actively and personally involved in engaging Congress in the hopes of advancing legislation, the details of which they helped negotiate.
When Donald Trump, however, presses lawmakers to “fix the immigration laws,” he’s not referring to a legislative package – because there is no legislative package. This president prefers profound passivity, barking orders from the Oval Office, and hoping Congress will simply figure something out.
And while it’s obviously true that it’s up to the legislative branch to debate and pass bills, in the American policymaking process, there’s generally an expectation that a sitting president will help take the lead, especially on issues of great importance to the White House, to help turn an administration’s goal into reality.
Therein lies one of the core problems with the Trump presidency: America’s first amateur president doesn’t know how to engage Congress to get what he what he wants, and he’s surprisingly incurious about learning.
As things stand, the president wants an immigration reform bill. Has he presented a plan? No. Has he hosted White House talks? No. Has he opened negotiations with congressional leaders? No.
Instead, Trump has accused lawmakers he disagrees with of “treason” – a word that generally doesn’t serve as a precursor to constructive and cooperative policymaking – and called on them to find a way to pass an immigration bill that would make him happy.
While he waits, the president is issuing a legally dubious emergency declaration, preparing to dump migrants in the districts of his perceived enemies, and reportedly advising U.S. border officials that following federal laws is optional.
There was an exchange between Chuck Todd and Kellyanne Conway on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday that struck me as amazing.
TODD: The president’s trying to browbeat [Democrats] to come over. That’s no way to get a compromise. Even Mitch McConnell is saying, “Enough of this already.” And the president keep –
CONWAY: But why don’t they come to the table. We’ll meet them this afternoon, if they’d like to come to the White House –
TODD: Why don’t you invite them?
CONWAY: The offer stands. The invitation is open.
In other words, as far as the White House is concerned, instead of holding legislative negotiations, Team Trump has simply extended an open invitation. If congressional leaders have some free time and want to stop by for talks, they can take comfort in knowing they won’t be turned away.
Alternatively, the president and his team could come up with a credible legislative agenda and begin working on it.