Saturday, February 16, 2019 | ePaper

A President not sure of what he wants complicates shutdown impasse

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The New York Times, Washington  :
When President Trump mused last year about protecting immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, calling them "these incredible kids," aides implored him privately to stop talking about them so sympathetically.
When he batted around the idea of granting them citizenship over a Chinese dinner at the White House last year with Democratic leaders, Mr. Trump's advisers quickly drew up a list of hard-line demands to send to Capitol Hill that they said must be included in any such plan.
And twice over the past two weeks, Mr. Trump has privately told lawmakers he is eager to strike a deal to extend legal status to the so-called Dreamers, only to have his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, make clear afterward that such a compromise was not really in the offing - unless it also included a host of stiffer immigration restrictions.
As the government shutdown continued for its second day on Sunday, one thing was clear to both sides of the negotiations to end it: The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve.
Both sides have reason to be confused. Each time Mr. Trump has edged toward compromise with Democrats, he has appeared to be reined in by his own staff, which shares the hawkish immigration stance that fueled his campaign. And Republican leaders, bruised by past experience with a president who has rarely offered them consistent cover on a politically challenging issue, are loath to guess at his intentions.
The result has been a paralysis not only at the White House but on Capitol Hill, complicating the chances for an ultimate resolution of how to protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants, the problem underlying the shutdown. And it has raised questions not only about Mr. Trump's grasp of the issue that animated his campaign and energizes his core supporters, but his leadership.
"There's a real sense that there's a disconnect between the president and his staff on immigration issues, and people on all sides are seeking to exploit that disconnect," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who advised Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of Mr. Trump's rivals, in his 2016 bid for the White House. "This is what happens when you have a president who is not clear and consistent on what he will accept: It emboldens all parties to take positions that they won't compromise."
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, suggested that Mr. Trump was in the thrall of extremists on his staff pulling him back from more moderate instincts on immigration. "His heart is right on this issue; I think he's got a good understanding of what will sell, and every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members," Mr. Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill on Sunday. "As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He's been an outlier for years."
Mr. Miller, 32, has been the ideological architect behind much of Mr. Trump's immigration agenda and a tart-tongued and unapologetic true believer in the president's "America First" approach to the issue. A former aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was in the Senate, he cut his teeth on Capitol Hill as a lonely gladiator against bipartisan efforts to overhaul the immigration system and provide a pathway to citizenship for roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants.

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