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Why Trump’s call for banning birthright citizenship sounds familiar

Eager to impress far-right voters, Donald Trump is vowing to end birthright citizenship on the first day of his second term. GOP voters should know better.


As the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination begins in earnest, we’re already starting to see candidates look for ways to impress the GOP base with far-right promises. NBC News highlighted Donald Trump’s latest vow yesterday:

Former President Trump said in a campaign video Tuesday that he would ban birthright citizenship through an executive order if elected president again. Declaring the order would ensure that the children of undocumented immigrants “will not receive automatic U.S. citizenship,” he said he’d sign the executive order on the first day of his presidency if elected in 2024.

At issue is the debate over a policy known as “birthright citizenship” and the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside,” it reads.

The amendment has been interpreted to mean that those born in the United States are citizens of the United States. Trump, evidently, intends to return to the White House and sign an executive order to end the constitutional guarantee.

Right off the bat, there’s an obvious legal problem: Presidents don’t have the authority to announce that certain parts of the Constitution no longer count because they say so. Were the Republican to make such an attempt, a difficult legal fight would soon follow.

But after seeing Trump’s video on this, a related question came to mind: Hasn’t he said this before?

As regular readers might recall, during the GOP’s last presidential primaries, several contenders announced their opposition to birthright citizenship, including Trump, who announced his opposition to the constitutional principle in 2015.

After taking office, the Republican largely forgot about the issue, at least until the 2018 midterm elections approached, at which point Trump announced he could end birthright citizenship with an executive order.

“It’ll happen with an executive order,” the then-president told Axios in late October 2018. He added, “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t. You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

Trump did not, in fact, end birthright citizenship with an executive order while in office, and there’s no reason to believe he’d do so if given a second chance.

But this raises a larger problem for the former president, which his intra-party rivals don’t have to worry about. Every time Trump makes another outlandish vow, assuring GOP voters about all the many reactionary things he’d do if given a second term, a nagging question hangs overhead: “Why didn’t you do this already when you had the chance?”

I have no idea how Trump might answer such a question — if he’s ever confronted with it — but I’m eager to hear him try.