At the time, it seemed like Donald Trump might have done something important. A week after rescinding the DACA policy that extended protections to nearly 1 million Dreamers, the president appeared to reach an agreement with Congress' top two Democrats -- Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi -- to protect the young immigrants.
Though a variety of details needed to be worked out, Trump and the Democratic leaders appeared to endorse a framework in which the White House accepted DACA protections, while Dems agreed to boost border security. The fight over the border wall, the president said at the time, would "come later."
Almost immediately, Trump received a round of positive press; his approval rating started improving; and there was chatter about his impressive "independent" streak. The president had every incentive to follow through on the agreement he reached with Schumer and Pelosi.
A month later, Trump is nevertheless headed in a regressive direction.
The Trump administration Sunday sent Congress a list of tough immigration reforms it would require to be included in any legislation that would allow immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children, known as Dreamers, to remain. The proposals include funding for a southern border wall and are likely to be rebuked by Democrats. [...][T]he policies outlined by the White House on Sunday night are likely to push Democrats away from the negotiating table. Some of the toughest proposals include removing protections for unaccompanied minor immigrants, allowing state and local police to investigate immigration status more broadly and limiting visas given to spouses and family members of immigrants who come to the United States to work to curb a pattern referred to as chain migration.
In other words, the terms of a fairly straightforward agreement were reached in September -- a shield for Dreamers in exchange for increased border security measures -- only to see Trump change the terms in October.
If you thought the president was becoming more pragmatic and responsible a month ago, I have some very bad news for you. The White House knows Dems will never accept these terms, which is probably why Trump World made the demands in the first place.
NBC News' report on this added, "One source familiar with the deliberations described the policies last week as a 'wish list' of Trump's senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner and former Senate staffer for Attorney General Jeff Sessions."
This should, of course, surprise no one, but it touches on an important aspect of dealing with this White House: whoever has access to Trump's ear last wins. When Trump met with Democratic leaders, he liked what he heard and shook hands on a bipartisan agreement. When Trump then spoke to Stephen Miller, he also liked what his aide had to say, and changed course on the deal.
This makes negotiations with the president all but impossible. Since he doesn't understand the substantive details of any issue, policymakers are better off dealing directly with White House aides -- since they're the ones who ultimately tell Trump what to think anyway.
DACA is a classic example of a president who can't seem to make up his mind. Before the election, Trump vowed to scrap protections for Dreamers, only to say after the election that the young immigrants can "rest easy." He then reversed course, rescinding the protections, only to announce soon after that he might be inclined keep them anyway.
Then he struck a deal with Dems, asking the nation, "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?" Now Trump is gutting that deal, putting Dreamers' futures at risk.
This incoherence obviously matters in the immigration debate, but it's also a reminder of why trying to work with Trump in any debate is almost certain to fail.
Update: In a joint written statement issued late yesterday, Pelosi and Schumer said, "The Administration can't be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans.
"We told the President at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures alongside the DREAM Act, but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise. The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations. If the President was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so."