Donald Trump addressed the National Federation of Independent Businesses yesterday, and though the president's remarks were supposed to be about small businesses and the economy, the only thing he seemed eager to talk about was immigration.
In fact, at one point, Trump went on an extended, unscripted riff on one point in particular: the prospect of hiring additional immigration judges to help expedite the legal process at the border. The president apparently thinks this idea is "crazy."
"Ultimately, we have to have a real border -- not judges. Thousands and thousands of judges they want to hire. Who are these people? ... What country does this? ... No, seriously, what country does it?"They said, 'Sir, we'd like to hire about five or six-thousand more judges.' Five or six-thousand? Now, can you imagine the graft that must take place? You're all small business owners, so I know you can imagine a thing like that would happen. But here's a guy -- they say, 'Could you please be a judge? Come on, get it.' They line up to be a judge. It's horrible."We don't want judges; we want security on the border."
There are a couple of key details to keep in mind. The first is that literally no one at the federal level has called for the hiring of several "thousand" immigration judges. The actual figure is several hundred.
The second relevant point is coming to terms with who came up with this idea: the Trump White House.
Last fall, on the heels of the president rescinding the DACA policy that extended protections to Dreamers, Trump sat down with Democratic leaders about a possible compromise, and there was reason to believe a deal would come together. In early October, however, the White House moved sharply to the right, delivering a list of demands to Congress that the president expected to be met in exchange for shielding Dreamers from deportation.
As the New York Times noted at the time, among the many things the president called for was "a surge in resources to pay for 370 additional immigration judges, 1,000 government lawyers and more detention space so that children arriving at the border can be held, processed and quickly returned if they do not qualify to stay longer."
This was, at the time, effectively part of a ransom note. If Dems were so eager to protect Dreamers, they'd have to make Trump happy, and part of satisfying the president was hiring several hundred immigration judges.
That deal never came together, and the courts took away the White House's DACA leverage, but that didn't make yesterday's speech any less curious: Trump appeared to mock one of his own ideas as ridiculous. He's effectively gone from saying, "We demand more judges," to literally saying, "We don't want judges."
As for why the president just denounced part of the White House agenda, I think NBC News' Benjy Sarlin explained this well: "What's likely happening is Trump hears 'judges' and his reflexive dislike of due process kicks in."
Agreed. As Rachel noted on the show last night, many of the president's most egregious efforts against immigrants and foreign visitors have failed spectacularly in the courts, which has probably created an association in Trump's mind: judges mean legal process, legal process means due process, due process means defeat for the administration's agenda.
As for the current state of White House's official policy on this -- does Team Trump want more judges or not? -- your guess is as good as mine.