Last Friday, the president told CPAC that “fake news” outlets like CNN “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.” Four days later, he instructed CNN to quote him as a “senior administration official.”
“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” this official told a group of national news anchors in a private meeting Tuesday afternoon, BuzzFeed News reports. The source went on to suggest that he was open to a pathway to legalization for the noncriminal portion of the undocumented population. However, this unnamed insider emphasized that he did not support citizenship for those people — except, perhaps, for those who were brought into the United States illegally as children.
While Trump initially floated this trial balloon behind the veil of anonymity, by 6 p.m. the White House had put many of the president’s closed-door remarks on the record. CNN updated its story accordingly.
Though amusing, the president’s latest display of brazen hypocrisy is probably less consequential than the substance of his (temporarily) anonymous tip.
During his campaign, Trump tiptoed toward moderation on immigration multiple times, but always retreated back to more familiar, xenophobic ground. At a meeting with Democratic senators in early February, Trump expressed openness to revisiting aspects of the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration-reform bill. The White House then reiterated the president’s opposition to that bill, and any other legislation that would give “amnesty” to the undocumented.
Trump repeated this seesaw pattern on Tuesday. In his speech to Congress, the president never mentioned a pathway to legalization, opting to tout his plans for a border wall — and new office of Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement — instead.
So, it would be easy to dismiss Trump’s noises about moderation as just that. Especially, considering that his administration just made virtually every undocumented resident of the United States a “priority” for deportation.
Still, if anyone can pull a “Nixon goes to China” on immigration reform, it’s Donald Trump. And the kind of compromise he’s gesturing at — mass legalization without citizenship — is the ultimate win-win for his party’s Establishment: Corporations would (likely) retain access to an underclass of workers who lack the full protections of American labor law, while GOP politicians would be spared the fear of 11 million new low-income, Hispanic voters turning red states blue.
Of course, if one believes that undocumented immigrants provide a source of unfair competition to low-skilled American workers — as Trump claims to — than establishing a permanent labor underclass does little to solve the problem.
So, that senior official probably didn’t mean what he said. After all, when has Trump given us cause to question his devotion to the American worker?