As Americans come to terms with the Trump administration's practice of separating children and parents at the border, public revulsion has grown. Donald Trump seems unconcerned with the human controversy, but antsy about the political one.
And so, the president has taken a variety of steps to assure Americans that Democrats are to blame for his immigration policies. It's demonstrably ridiculous, but that's Trump's story and he's sticking to it.
Last week, for example, the president urged the public to "put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents." This week, he added, "Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats."
This morning, Trump took the argument away from Twitter and repeated it aloud to reporters. Asked about separating children from their parents, the president argued:
"Well, the Democrats -- this is a Democrat bill. The Democrats can end that very quickly. All they have to do is sit down with us and negotiate a real bill allows us to keep criminals out of this country. It's very easy."... I don't like the children being separated from the parents. I don't like it. I hate it. But that's a Democrat bill that we're enforcing. We can change it in one day. All they have to do is come and see us."
Even by Trump standards, this is indefensibly incoherent.
First, the idea that congressional Democrats won't negotiate with the White House on immigration is badly at odds with reality. The truth is, Dems offered Trump at least six bipartisan compromises on this issue, including a package that would've funded his beloved border-wall proposal. The president rejected each of them, insisting he needed both wall funding and drastic cuts to legal immigration.
Second, blaming his own family-separation policies on "a Democrat bill" is just bonkers. As we discussed last week, Trump is plainly lying,
The "bill" he keeps pointing doesn't exist. As NBC News reported the other day, there’s a 2008 law “requiring children traveling alone at the border to be released in the ‘least restrictive setting’ while their cases are processed,” but it doesn’t require Trump to separate children from their parents, and it was a bipartisan measure signed by George W. Bush.
The policies the Trump administration are imposing on these families are part of a deliberate strategy. Whether the president understands this or not, top members of his own team – including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen – have made no secret of the fact that they’re separating these families, on purpose, in order to discourage additional immigration.
As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell explained, “The Trump administration’s goal is to inflict pain upon these families. Cruelty is not an unfortunate, unintended consequence of White House immigration policy; it is the objective. After all, if forced separations are sufficiently agonizing, fewer families will try to come here, no matter how dangerous their home countries are. Administration members have argued as much.”
All of which raises the question of why, exactly, Trump is telling this specific lie.
Circling back to our previous coverage, it’s obviously an election year, and the Republican president wants to help his party by attacking its rivals. But implicit in this is an awkward acknowledgement: Trump seems to understand that his own policies are so shameful, his own agenda is so deeply at odds with our collective conscience and sense of morality, that he wants Americans to blame others for his actions.
Indeed, this represents a rare instance in which this president said he "hates" one of his own policies.
Trump could, of course, simply take responsibility for his approach to governing, but that would leave him on the hook for practices he apparently considers shocking. Gaslighting the public is easier than explaining why his administration is needlessly punishing these immigrants.
The question for the White House is simple: if the president is offended by his own policy in this area, and he can’t think of a defense for his own agenda, why doesn’t he stop separating children from their families?