President Trump has published ill-advised tweets before, but last night he outdid himself. Trump tweeted:
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!
The tweet undermines the rationale for Trump’s suspension of DACA, namely that it usurps power vested with Congress by the Constitution. He takes essentially the same position President Obama took. The former president reminded us yesterday that he called on Congress to grant relief to the “Dreamers” and that he granted it through DACA only when Congress failed to act. Trump now indicates that he will consider the same course of action if Congress doesn’t “legalize DACA” in six months.
But that’s not the worst of it. By promising to “revisit this issue” if Congress doesn’t “legalize DACA,” Trump is decreasing the likelihood that Congress will (1) act at all and (2) act optimally.
Absent his tweet, Democrats could reasonably believe they must make concessions on immigration enforcement in order to save DACA. With his tweet, Trump is signaling that no concessions need to be made — no wall, no e-verify, no nothing.
The Democrats can hold out for legislation that “legalizes DACA” and does nothing else. If they can’t get such legislation, they now have reason to believe Trump will rescue DACA for them.
Republicans who want enforcement concessions retain some leverage. Without an act of Congress, DACA remains vulnerable to judicial challenge. And it’s still possible that Trump, his tweet notwithstanding, will not rescue DACA if Congress fails to act.
But Trump has lost a considerable amount of leverage, assuming he’s actually serious about building a wall or otherwise enhancing immigration enforcement.
Why did he do it? Maybe because he’s just an erratic guy. Maybe because he was stung by some of the criticism his move brought.
I suspect he did it because he wants to be on record that he cares about the Dreamers. If Congress saves DACA, he wants to be able to say not just that he masterminded it by kicking the issue to the legislation, but also that he would have saved the program if Congress hadn’t acted.
I’m inclined to agree with Yuval Levin, though. He writes:
[T]here is no way to understand this tweet by the president last night as anything other than a spectacular blunder that makes a complete hash of everything his administration and his allies might be after.
The president’s statement contradicted both the substance of the policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday and everything Sessions said about it. It makes a mockery of what the president’s press secretary said in defense of it. It defines legislation to “legalize DACA” as the goal, rather than as a concession to be made in return for achieving other policy goals, so that Republicans must now effectively negotiate without leverage and while standing to the right of a famously immigration-hawk president and Democrats can make an “even Donald Trump” argument for not giving an inch.
He has given ground decisively but gained no friends and no concessions. And so he has increased the likelihood that six months from now he will be right back here but weaker. It would not have been easy to undermine his own position more thoroughly than this.
I can’t think of another Trump tweet that carried with it this many significantly adverse consequences.