There’s an old saying attributed to Otto von Bismark that laws and sausage are two things people should never watch being made. For nearly an hour on Tuesday, however, the public was given a window into the ongoing Washington negotiations over immigration issues – and the picture it painted wasn’t as stomach-churning as might be imagined.
Yes, all parties – Donald Trump and Republican and Democratic legislators – were keenly aware that the cameras were rolling. And, yes, the bottom line is what the parties are willing to agree to when pen is put to paper and votes are recorded. What’s more, Mr Trump has expressed openness to immigration compromise in the past, only to revert to his more pugnacious habits. But in a political environment riddled with acrimony and abuse, we got a rare glimpse – for a moment – on how the machinery of government could function in a more productive fashion.
Trump the negotiator
After a week of press battering over assertions in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury that even Mr Trump’s own staff questioned his mental capacity, the president held court in the White House and engaged friends and foes alike.
This, at least for an hour, was the Donald Trump many American voters may have hoped – or even expected – they were getting when they elected him president. While he stood firm on his belief that a (less expansive) border wall was necessary for American security and that immigration rules should be tightened, he was far less bombastic and inflammatory than he seems in his rally speeches, off-the-cuff press remarks and early morning tweet-storms.
The president didn’t dive deep into the policy details, of course, but he was willing to let all parties have their say and gently nudge them toward agreement. He expressed faith that everyone at the table could come to an accommodation on issues such as providing protection for undocumented immigrants previously covered by Barack Obama’s Daca (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) order and strengthened border security.
He also promised that he would sign whatever Congress put on his desk, and not nitpick over details.
It was a situation that played to the president’s strengths and, perhaps, showed a path forward for an embattled administration – which is probably exactly why the White House gave such unusual access at the meeting.
The sticking point
There was an interesting exchange between California Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein and Donald Trump midway through the discussion in which she said Democrats wanted a “clean” Daca bill.
Clean, in conventional Washington parlance, means a stand-alone bill with no other measure attached. Trump agreed – and you could almost hear his Republicans gasp in horror.
Then, the president explained: ” I think, to me, a clean bill is a bill of Daca, we take care of them, and we also take care of security.”
In other words, Daca plus border security (including wall funding). And there’s the rub. Will Democrats give Mr Trump his wall in exchange for Daca protections enshrined into law? Or will the president back down and accept more nebulous border security funding with no wall guarantee? And can they get it all done while also passing a budget plan to keep the US government operating after the current 19 January spending authorisation expires?
Despite all the talk on Tuesday, the parties seemed no closer to agreement on this matter.
Whither Trump’s base?
It’s still jarring to hear Mr Trump, who relentlessly bashed 2016 primary opponents Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and