IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

On immigration, Trump leaves Republicans more confused, not less

On immigration, congressional Republicans are in desperate need of some presidential leadership. Last night on the Hill, however, Trump made things worse.
Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House
President Donald Trump speaks during an event on prison reform in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Washington. Trump and his...

As public revulsion grows over the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, Republican policymakers are in desperate need of some presidential leadership. They are, however, stuck with Donald Trump.

The GOP-led Senate is largely united on a proposal that would end the White House's "zero tolerance" policy; the GOP-led House will vote tomorrow on entirely different immigration legislation, and the Republican president traveled to Capitol Hill last night, ostensibly to help guide his party on the path forward.

At least, that was the idea. The Washington Post  reported:

President Trump implored anxious House Republicans to fix the nation's immigration system but did not offer a clear path forward amid the growing uproar over his administration's decision to separate migrant families at the border.Huddling with the GOP at the Capitol on Tuesday evening, Trump stopped short of giving a full-throated endorsement to immigration legislation meant to unite the moderate and conservative wings of the House Republican conference.

The House is poised tomorrow to take up two bills -- a conservative plan and even-more-conservative plan -- and the president made clear that he's comfortable with both. Indeed, by all accounts, Trump told GOP lawmakers that he's "one thousand percent" behind them.

What he did not do, however, was offer any real clarity or specificity. One top Republican lawmaker who has not decided how he'll vote tomorrow, told  Politico, in reference to Trump's remarks, "It did not move the needle at all. He made comments like 'I'm behind it 1,000 percent,' but what is 'it'?"

The president expressed tacit support last night for the legislation he denounced a few days ago, and Trump expressed a willingness to sign a bill that, just hours earlier, he announced plans to "make changes to." Offered a chance to clear things up, Trump spent "45 minutes ranting to House Republicans on everything from taxes to his pending lawsuits."

GOP members came away certain that Trump wants a bill, but uncertain about which bill, and what exactly that bill should include.

Presumably, the road ahead could've come into sharper focus during the Q&A portion of the president's appearance on Capitol Hill, except in this case, Trump "took no questions and engaged in no discussion."

So much for presidential leadership.

Trump was willing to describe his own family-separation policy as "nasty," but not nasty enough for him to end the practice of forcibly keeping children from their parents. On the contrary, the president clearly expects some kind of ransom in exchange for allowing kids to remain with their families.

But as a practical matter, Trump's ransom note is effectively blank, because he doesn't really know enough about the details to direct his own allies on how best to give him what he wants.