President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

Trump's false start on immigration leaves everyone guessing

— Updated
Ahead of his speech to a joint session of Congress last night, Donald Trump's to-do list was already ambitious to an unrealistic degree. The president expects swift action on health care, taxes, and infrastructure, among other priorities. Given divisions that already exist on Capitol Hill -- not just between the parties but also within the GOP itself -- it's a tall order.

Which is why it came as quite a surprise yesterday afternoon when Trump spoke to reporters off-camera and talked up the idea of adding immigration reform to his agenda. NBC News' Benjy Sarlin reported:

The president surprised many earlier in the day when he told reporters in a pre-speech meeting that he was open to providing legal status to undocumented immigrants who haven't committed serious crimes. Those individuals would not need to leave the country first. "The time is right for an immigration bill if both sides are willing to compromise," Trump told reporters.

It was an out-of-left-field move, but White House sources indicated to NBC News that the remarks were not the kind of idle comments by Trump that have roiled news cycles in the past.

This jolted much of the political world, in large part because it represented a dramatic reversal for Trump, but also because it suggested the president's speech would include ideas about immigration that no one would've predicted.

And then Trump actually spoke, and when addressing the issue, he sounded like ... Trump.

A Huffington Post piece noted that the president's remarks were "peppered with references to undocumented immigrants who bring in drugs, kill Americans and drive down wages.... He discussed immigrants almost exclusively in the context of crime, terrorism and lowering Americans' wages."

This includes Trump's plans to create a special law-enforcement agency -- Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) -- to highlight crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

I realize the political world's consensus this morning is made up of pundits who are excited about Trump sounding "presidential" and offering an improved "tone," but I'm guessing they missed these portions of the address.

Regardless, it's hard not to wonder what happened yesterday afternoon in the West Wing. Did Trump, after talking to reporters about the possibility of a bipartisan deal, change his mind? Did his speechwriters forget to change the text? Was it just a passing thought the president had, never to be mentioned again?

The idea is not ridiculous on its face; a deal on immigration is still possible. Indeed, House Republican leaders killed a reform package a few years ago -- despite the bill having enough bipartisan support to pass both chambers -- which could be revitalized at any time.

It would take some presidential leadership, however, and as of yesterday, no one's sure what to make of Trump's perspective on the issue.