Tuesday, January 16, 2018


According to a story in The Washington Post, supporters of an immigration deal thought they had President Trump's support when they left for a White House meeting with him on Thursday. But after they arrived, they realized that the president had turned against the deal, under the influence of hardliners who'd also been invited to attend.
When President Trump spoke by phone with Sen. Richard J. Durbin around 10:15 a.m. last Thursday, he expressed pleasure with Durbin’s outline of a bipartisan immigration pact and praised the high-ranking Illinois Democrat’s efforts, according to White House officials and congressional aides.

The president then asked if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), his onetime foe turned ally, was on board, which Durbin affirmed. Trump invited the lawmakers to visit with him at noon, the people familiar with the call said.

But when they arrived at the Oval Office, the two senators were surprised to find that Trump was far from ready to finalize the agreement. He was “fired up” and surrounded by hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who seemed confident that the president was now aligned with them, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.
We know that on issues he doesn't understand, the president often agrees with the last person who talked to him. It's clear that, in advance of this meeting, hardline staffers wanted Trump to be swayed by other hardliners, not by Durbin and Graham. So they invited hardliners to the meeting, as did Trump himself.
... some White House officials, including conservative adviser Stephen Miller, feared that Graham and Durbin would try to trick Trump into signing a bill that was damaging to him and would hurt him with his political base. As word trickled out Thursday morning on Capitol Hill that Durbin and Graham were heading over to the White House, legislative affairs director Marc Short began to make calls to lawmakers and shared many of Miller’s concerns.

Soon, Goodlatte, one of the more conservative House members on immigration, was headed to the White House. Trump also called House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and asked him to come, McCarthy said. Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Cotton were also invited to rush over.

In the late morning, before Durbin and Graham arrived, [chief of staff John] Kelly — who had already been briefed on the deal — talked to Trump to tell him that the proposal would probably not be good for his agenda, White House officials said. Kelly, a former secretary of homeland security, has taken an increasingly aggressive and influential role in the immigration negotiations, calling lawmakers and meeting with White House aides daily — more than he has on other topics. He has “very strong feelings,” in the words of one official.
What exactly did these hardliners say to Trump before the meeting? If they just made policy arguments, that's politics. But did they know that he regards certain countries as "shitholes"? Did they steer his thoughts in that direction?
Last Thursday was a critical moment in the stalled negotiations, revealing the president’s priorities even as the discussion fell apart.

Trump complained that there wasn’t enough money included in the deal for his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He also objected that Democratic proposals to adjust the visa lottery and federal policy for immigrants with temporary protected status were going to drive more people from countries he deemed undesirable into the United States instead of attracting immigrants from places like Norway and Asia, people familiar with the meeting said....

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was in the room and was largely stone-faced, not giving any visible reaction when Trump said “shithole countries” or when he said Haitians should not be part of any deal, White House advisers said.
It's quite possible that Trump's racism is so close to the surface that he doesn't need to be nudged in order to summon it up. But it also seems possible that before the meeting someone in the room pushed that particular button -- the supposed awfulness of African countries -- knowing that it would bring out Trump's racism. We have no evidence one way or another. But if the hardliners knew the president's prejudices, is it crazy toi think they'd try to tap into them?

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