After turning the world upside down on Thursday by launching a potential trade war with China and replacing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, the president lobbed a grenade down Pennsylvania Avenue with an early Friday morning tweet:
It turned out to be just a smoke grenade, since Trump dialed it all back and signed the bill today. But his behavior during the hours leading up to this event would shock the political world if it involved any other president at any other time.
Let us count the ways it was all just weird:
1) The veto threat contradicted a presidential tweet from Wednesday night in which Trump conveyed his grudging support for the bill.
This big-picture assessment of the giant bill is notably missing from the Friday morning tweet, which focused strictly on the immigration stuff.
2) The threat directly contradicted Trump’s own personal assurances to Republican congressional leaders, and the White House’s public assurances to the whole world soon after.
Before the resigned-sounding Wednesday night tweet, Trump had let it be known privately he was considering a veto of the omnibus (just as it was being finalized for release), which caused Paul Ryan to scurry over to the White House and talk POTUS off the ledge. He reportedly told Ryan (and Mitch McConnell, who was on the phone) he’d sign the bill. Then on Thursday, as the House prepared to vote on it, the White House confirmed the decision in a public briefing:
“The president supports the bill, looks forward to signing it,” Mulvaney said, alongside White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short.
Again, that was less than 24 hours ago. Nothing in the bill changed between now and then.
3) Trump himself caused the DACA problem that he’s complaining about Congress not fixing.
Lest we forget, before any Democrats were in a position to “abandon 800,000 plus DACA recipients” Trump abandoned them by rescinding the executive order that created DACA in the first place. And as a matter of fact, DACA recipients are not in any imminent danger purely and simply because two federal judges struck down Trump’s action (it’s now pending before the Supreme Court).
4) Negotiations leading to the omnibus — including the immigration provisions and the lack thereof — have been going on for more than six months.
Trump’s back-and-forth on the 2,232-page omnibus at the last minute might create the impression that Congress — the Congress controlled by his own party — has blindsided him with this huge bill and its unsatisfying immigration provisions.
In fact, it’s the product of negotiations that have been going on since last summer, when it became obvious that the regular appropriations process would, as has become customary, fail to get the job done. Congress has passed, and Trump has signed, five stopgap spending bills during these negotiations, in which the White House has been involved at every single step. Acting surprised about the omnibus’s content or process now is very weird if not blatantly dishonest.
5) Trump has moved the goalposts on immigration policy, making a deal all but impossible.
Some sort of simple border-wall-for-DACA deal was very much on the table until quite recently. Chuck Schumer famously offered such a deal
to Trump over cheeseburgers in mid-January during earlier negotiations to head off a government shutdown. But soon thereafter the White House announced a new proposal making a “path to citizenship” for Dreamers contingent on major changes in (and restrictions of) legal immigration, which was very much a nonstarter for Democrats.
During the very latest negotiations, every time a renewed DACA-for-border-wall deal seemed imminent, the White House’s position kept blurring; at any given moment, it wasn’t clear whether Trump’s most pressing demand was border-wall funding, or legal immigration changes, or even punishment of “sanctuary cities.” Support for a true “path to citizenship” for Dreamers among Republicans receded as well, in favor of short-term DACA protections for a limited population. In the end, as Dara Lind explains: “Congressional Republicans wrote the omnibus bill the way they did because they didn’t seem that interested in trying to guess what the president will actually sign.”
6) Trump waited until Congress was heading out of town before his latest veto threat.
It was not exactly a secret that Congress was embarking on a two-week Easter recess the minute the omnibus was cleared from its dockets. And members were leaving Washington for all sorts of reasons: Many were attending Representative Louise Slaughter’s funeral; some were on a long-planned trip to Africa; still others were going back home to campaign for reelection. Now they are stuck in transit, waiting to see if Trump’s veto threat was just a temper tantrum or a real problem.
It’s entirely possible that Trump did what he did, consciously or subconsciously, to remind Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and every other member of Congress that he is the one in charge, their travel plans be damned.
7) Trump may have issued his veto threat because of a Fox and Friends segment.
The weirdest possibility of all is that the president of the United States went back on his word, made his own staff and his congressional allies look like fools, and threatened a government shutdown because he woke up and saw people trashing the omnibus on Fox and Friends.
And it’s weirder yet that this theory is so plausible.
8) In signing the bill, Trump said it would never happen again.
After calming down, and apparently hearing the pleas of military brass that vetoing the Omnibus would kill the abundant new Pentagon spending in the bill, Trump signed it, complaining the whole time about the “ridiculous situation” that led up to this development, which would sound like an admission of error coming from a more self-aware POTUS. He also whined for the hundredth time about the need to get rid of the Senate filibuster so that Republicans could rule without Democratic input (a demand that ignores intra-Republican and House-Senate differences), and in a strange twist, asked for line-item veto powers, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional twenty years ago.
Trump emphatically said: “I will never sign another bill like this again.” After this amazing series of events, who’s going to take that promise to the bank?