Opinion writer

We aren’t really gonna deport all those people, Donald. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

THE MORNING PLUM:

One big question that looms as Donald Trump takes power is this: Will Trump actually make good on the aspects of his program that embody Trumpism at its most cruel and inhumane? Trump promised to expand mass deportations and to end protections for those brought here illegally as children. Now he must decide whether to deliver on those promises — which, if carried out, will likely cause the broader public to recoil.

In a remarkable exchange with an undocumented mother last night at a CNN town hall, House Speaker Paul Ryan strongly suggested to her that the revocation of protections for the DREAMers brought here as children will not be carried out. That’s newsworthy on its own. But beyond that, the exchange also exposed the cruelty of stepped-up mass deportations for many other low-level undocumented offenders:

It’s a powerful moment, but the policy details lurking underneath the emotion are also extremely important. A woman brought here illegally as an 11-year-old child “through no fault of her own,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it, asked whether she and “many families in my situation” should face deportation. “No,” Ryan responded. After noting her love for her daughter, Ryan added:

“What we have to do is find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law. And we’ve got to do this so that the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under you and your family gets separated. That’s the way we feel. And that is exactly what our new, incoming president has stated he wants to do….I’m sure you’re a great contributor to [your] community.”

This might be a reference to the fact that Trump recently seemed to back off his pledge to reverse President Obama’s executive action protecting DREAMers from deportation, saying instead that “we’re going to work something out” for them. Indeed, under subsequent questioning from Tapper, Ryan explicitly said he and the Trump transition team were working on a “good, humane solution” for the hundreds of thousands currently benefiting from that executive action.

Crucially, this executive action (DACA) doesn’t just protect DREAMers from deportation. It also grants them work permits, which means that revoking it would revoke those work permits, driving untold numbers of young, assimilated, culturally-American immigrants back underground. Ryan alluded to this when he described her as a “contributor” to her “community.” And so, at a minimum, Ryan’s assertions would appear to mean that Republicans and Trump are trying to work out some way that the DREAMers can continue contributing to American life out in the open. (At a maximum, “get right with the law” means creating a path to legal status for those people.) Whether or not this actually ends up happening, the key point is that Ryan basically admitted that this is the moral imperative here.

But Ryan went further still. Ryan alluded to the need to avoid breaking up families like hers, while also acknowledging the need to solve the problem “writ large,” by which he meant, the problem of the 11 million — and he even said there wouldn’t be any “deportation force.” Ryan understands immigration policy. In 2014, he gingerly tried to walk his party towards embracing some sort of path to legal status for most undocumented immigrants. He appears to grasp that the core dilemma here is that most undocumented immigrants are more than mere lawbreakers — that stepping up deportations would break up families of people who have been longtime “contributors” to their “communities.”

Indeed, what this exchange also shows, by illustrating this fundamental dilemma in human terms, is that carrying out these core promises of Trumpism would be a political disaster. The DREAMers in particular are sympathetic figures. But so are many undocumented immigrants who came here as adults seeking better lives for their families. And such tales would be widely circulated by the national media. It isn’t just that these stories would make for good political ammunition. It’s that stepped-up mass deportations actually would be cruel and inhumane, and majorities of Americans would likely see them in exactly those terms.

Ryan seems to know this. The question now is what Trump will do — and whether congressional Republicans will go along with the worst. “Ryan is suggesting that mass-deportations are cruel and unworkable,” immigration attorney David Leopold told me today. “If Trump goes through with them, how will Republicans in Congress respond?”

Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, said during his confirmation hearing Jan. 10 that "law-abiding individuals" living in the U.S. illegally are "probably" not a priority for deportation. (Reuters)

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* HOUSE GOP TO GRILL ETHICS CHIEF: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the House Oversight chair, has now summoned the head of the Office of Government Ethics to be interviewed about his public criticism of Trump’s laughable ethics arrangement:

Richard Painter, who served as ethics adviser to former President George W. Bush, called the letter a “clear threat to pull the funding of the Office of Government Ethics” unless the agency follows the wishes of Trump and the Republican leadership. “They are saying lay off Trump and push through these nominees or we’ll kill the funding of OGE,” Painter said.

Congressional Republicans will not only abdicate oversight on Trump; they may now be taking active steps to frustrate it. This underscores how institutionally critical the news media will be in the Trump era.

* GOP WILL REPEAL AND REPLACE ‘AT THE SAME TIME’: Paul Ryan, at a CNN town hall last night, made this promise:

“We want to do this at the same time, and in some cases in the same bill. So we want to advance repealing this law with its replacement at the same time.”

Given that Republicans are also moving to repeal much of the ACA right away, one imagines the “replacement” rolled out will be a white paper with minimal detail.

* TRUMP APPROVAL AT HISTORIC LOWS: New Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day finds:

Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving.

Trump is well below 50 percent. By contrast, in Gallup polling, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all started off at over 60 percent. Hey, nowhere to go but up!

* THE GOP’S HEALTH CARE PROBLEM IS ITS PHILOSOPHY: Paul Krugman explains why the GOP replacement for Obamacare (if it ever materializes at all) will result in so many losing coverage:

Republicans don’t have a health care plan, but they do have a philosophy — and it’s all about less. Less regulation, so that insurers can turn you down if you have a pre-existing condition. Less government support, so if you can’t afford coverage, too bad. And less coverage in general…But the idea that it would lead to big cost savings over all is pure fantasy, and it would have a devastating effect on the millions who have gained coverage during the Obama years.

Trump may say he wants everyone to remain covered, but that is inevitably going to collide with congressional GOP philosophy, and that moment simply cannot be deferred forever.

* YOUR MORNING TRUMP TWEETS: In two tweets this morning, Trump said this about the latest unsubstantiated claims that Russia amassed compromising info on him:

Totally made up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans — FAKE NEWS! Russia says nothing exists. Probably released by “Intelligence” even knowing there is no proof, and never will be. My people will have a full report on hacking within 90 days!

I’m sure “his people” can be counted on to provide an objective, in-depth rendering. This does appear newsworthy — he promised his people will put something out on all this.

* AND TRUMP’S CABINET IS WHITE AND MALE: An interesting observation from Jasmine Lee:

Trump’s cabinet so far is more white and male than any first cabinet since Reagan’s….[It has] a smaller percentage of women and nonwhites than the first cabinets of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George Bush. If Mr. Trump’s nominees are confirmed, women and nonwhites will hold five of 21 cabinet or cabinet-level positions.

But whatever we do, let’s not say out loud that Trump plays “identity politics.”