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

Trump's confusion and contradictions undermine progress on immigration

On a practical level, how does one gain approval for an immigration compromise from a president who doesn't appear to have any idea what he's talking about?
Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House
epa06417072 US President Donald J. Trump speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, DC, USA, 04 January 2018. President...

Donald Trump sat down with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and when the conversation turned to immigration, the president apparently wanted to clarify a point that no one has been confused about.

TRUMP: [F[irst of all, there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers, OK? Dreamers are different. And I want American kids to be Dreamers also, by the way. I want American kids to be Dreamers also. But there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers. And a lot of times when I was with certain Democrats they kept using the word dreamer. I said, "Please, use the word DACA." You know it's a totally different word.WSJ: Sure.TRUMP: OK, people think they're interchangeable, but they're not.

When I'd first heard about this, I thought Trump might have been trying to make a point about branding. More than once over the last year, the president has shaped his policy preferences based on whether he likes the way certain words or phrases sound, and so I assumed Trump didn't like the word "Dreamers" because it helps frame the young immigrants in a positive light.

But the transcript suggests something more basic is going on: Trump just doesn't know what he's saying. "DACA" is an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy created to benefit Dreamers. Trump sees a "big difference" between DACA and Dreamers, but no such difference exists. The president, despite making immigration one of his signature issues for the last two-and-a-half years, appears to be clueless.

But the point here is not just to point and laugh at the amateur president's ignorance. There are real consequences to Trump's confusion and contradictions.

On Tuesday, for example, the president accidentally endorsed a Senate Democrat's request for a clean DACA bill, extending protections to Dreamers, only to have a House Republican quickly interject, reminding Trump of what his position is supposed to be. A day later, he contradicted himself on immigration policy again.

Complicating matters, the president said this week that if there's a bipartisan deal on immigration policy, he'd sign it, no matter what's in it. "I'm not going to say, 'Oh, gee, I want this or I want that.' I'll be signing it," Trump said on Tuesday. He went on to say if lawmakers negotiate a policy "with things that I'm not in love with," he'd embrace it anyway.

It was therefore of great interest yesterday when a bipartisan group of senators crafted a compromise plan, which Trump quickly  rejected.

Presumably, policymakers can begin negotiations anew, but there doesn't appear to be any real point in having discussions with Trump -- who still hasn't familiarized himself with the basics of the issue. He doesn't know the difference between DACA and Dreamers. He hates "chain migration," though he doesn't seem to understand some of the relevant details. His rhetoric about the visa "lottery" suggests he's not up to speed on this aspect of the debate, either. His claims about a proposed border wall are just plainly wrong.

Trump's racism creates an obvious hurdle when trying to deal with the issue in a serious way. But on a practical level, how does one gain approval for an immigration compromise from a president who doesn't appear to have any idea what he's talking about?