The point of Donald Trump’s event in the White House yesterday was to “salute the heroes” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). And while I’m sure the attendees welcomed the presidential appreciation, the celebration was not without flaws.
For example, when trying to applaud the CBP, Trump said “CBC” – eight times. This was not the speechwriters’ fault – the teleprompter said “CBP” – and he never quite got it right.
Making matters quite a bit worse, the most memorable moment of the gathering didn’t do the president any favors.
It was supposed to be a White House salute to the heroism of immigration agents who put their lives on the line to protect Americans. But on Monday, President Trump appeared to have something else on his mind: the ethnicity of one of the men he was honoring.
“Speaks perfect English,” Mr. Trump blurted out as he encouraged Adrian Anzaldua, a Hispanic-American Border Patrol agent and dog handler from Texas, to join him onstage in the East Room. Mr. Anzaldua recently arrested a smuggler in Laredo who had tried to bring 78 people into the United States illegally inside a truck trailer.
When he wasn’t commenting on Anzaldua’s ethnicity, Trump seemed preoccupied with turning the event into an overtly partisan affair. “The Republicans were with you all the way, all the way,” the president told the officials on hand, needlessly politicizing the gathering. He went on to call Democrats the “opposition,” who “don’t mind crime.”
Trump added, in reference to the midterm elections, “I think we’re going to have much more of a red wave than you’re going to see as a phony blue wave. Blue wave means crime. It means open borders. Not good.”
Remember, this wasn’t a partisan fundraiser or a campaign rally; it was an official White House event to honor public officials.
And then, of course, there were the lies.
The president assured ICE and CBP officials that he’s “seen numbers” and between 88% and 93% of Americans support their work. Trump has an unnerving habit of making up poll numbers, and this was an obvious example: the latest report from the Pew Research Center found that a plurality of the public has an unfavorable view of ICE.
He added, “To protect our nation from smuggling, trafficking, drugs, crime, the men and women of DHS are building the border wall as we sit, and the wall is getting longer, and taller, and stronger each and every day.”
This isn’t close to being true. As the president almost certainly knows by now, the recent omnibus spending package, which the president grudgingly signed in March, set aside $1.6 billion to be used to repair and build previously approved fencing – and none of the money can be used to build Trump’s wall.
When Trump said yesterday that wall construction is currently under way, he was making up his own reality.
If the White House wants to salute these public officials, fine. But there’s an important difference between honoring a group of people and lying to them.