With a government-shutdown deadline looming, and much of the fight focused on immigration policy, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly assured Democratic lawmakers yesterday that Donald Trump's posture has "evolved" since his 2016 presidential campaign.
The president, Kelly said, made promises that were not "fully informed" at the time. Trump no longer sees a 2,000-mile border wall as necessary, the chief of staff added, and he understands that Mexico won't finance the project.
It was around this time that Trump sat down with Reuters, complained bitterly about a "horrible" bipartisan immigration compromise pending in the Senate, and concluded, "It's the opposite of what I campaigned for." The president added this morning on Twitter that he still expects Mexico to pay for a wall.
Which of these competing visions is the actual White House policy? No one, including congressional Republicans, has any idea. The Washington Post reported:
While talking about languishing discussions to attach a DACA compromise and border security to the government-funding bill that is due Friday, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] suggested that the White House had failed to even make its demands known."I'm looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign," McConnell said. "As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels."
Of course, this presumes the president has actual, coherent policy preferences that can help guide bicameral negotiations. And yet, at this point, Trump has made clear he wants lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan solution; he doesn't care what's in it; except when someone tells him that he does care, at which point he rejects it without explanation, shortly before contradicting his own chief of staff's assurances to lawmakers.
It's against this backdrop that Trump says he has concerns about "trust." From the Reuters report:
Trump blamed [Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)] for leaking the language he used in the meeting, a disclosure that prompted critics to denounce Trump as a racist, an accusation he denied."I've lost all trust in Durbin," Trump said.
First, Durbin insists he didn't leak anything. Second, for this president to talk about "trust" is a rather hilarious failure of self-awareness. Not only does Trump tell demonstrable lies at a staggering rate, he's also proven himself to be the least trustworthy negotiator imaginable.
As Politico noted last night, "Lawmakers find it difficult or impossible to negotiate when the president can't seem to stick to a position for more than a few hours."
When the White House faces a crisis of credibility, the president should probably steer clear of debates over "trust."