THE MORNING PLUM:
Donald Trump is suddenly overcome with a profound sense of concern over the possibility that he may be abusing his own power as president. No, really, this is what multiple news organizations are now reporting — and asking us to believe.
But, given Trump’s track record when it comes to constraining his authority thus far, perhaps a hint of skepticism is in order?
The president is nearing a very difficult decision on the fate of some 800,000 people who were brought to this country illegally as children. He has to decide whether to end the Obama-era executive action that shields those people, the “dreamers,” from deportation and permits them to work, which is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
From news reports, we are now getting a deeper glimpse into the deliberations of Trump and his top advisers on this dilemma. Axios reports that the White House is keenly aware that ending DACA would create major complications for businesses that employ these people. Some White House staffers are also worried about facing scalding criticism for ending the program, which would uproot the lives of so many people who were brought here through no fault of their own, who are thoroughly American and who want to contribute positively to American life. Staffers view the opprobrium they would face as akin to that which met Trump’s thinly veiled Muslim ban; his pullout from the Paris climate deal; and his failure to unambiguously condemn the Charlottesville white supremacists.
In other words, some people in the White House appear to believe that ending protections for the dreamers could constitute a monstrous and deeply consequential moral wrong, on a par with some of the very worst things we have seen from Trump thus far. But according to Axios, Trump may pull the plug on DACA because the prevailing White House view is that continuing it would be illegal:
Senior officials tell us the majority view inside the Trump administration is that DACA is illegal, and the only way to deal with the problem of illegal immigrants who arrived here as children is for Congress to act.
The Associated Press similarly reports that Trump is expected to end the program. Sources tell the AP that the administration is deeply split between those who argue for keeping the program (Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump) and the immigration hard-liners who have argued that it is unconstitutional (Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions, the now-departed Stephen K. Bannon). So Trump is likely to side with the immigration hard-liners, who are leaking that they believe keeping this executive action violates the Constitution — and this will be the defense for ending it.
Are you freaking kidding me? Are we really supposed to believe the constitutionality of the program is weighing on Trump or will be instrumental in shaping his final decision?
It is a truly shocking coincidence that the same advisers who are telling Trump that DACA is unconstitutional were also the ones most responsible for the disguised Muslim ban and also pushed Trump to pardon Joe Arpaio. Bannon and Miller were key drivers of the ban’s original rollout. They both reportedly favored pardoning Arpaio. My point is not just that this strongly suggests their view of DACA’s constitutionality is rooted in their hostility to immigrants, though it does.
It’s also that this hints at an amusing double standard on the part of the White House’s immigration hard-line faction when it comes to the care with which they approach Trump’s exercise of his authority. Bannon and Miller’s haste to rush out the travel ban led them to trample all over the proper legal process for such measures, which in turn helped lead to its initial blockage by the courts. Bannon and Miller also appear to have privately told Trump that pardoning Arpaio would please his base, which only underscores how cavalier they were about a major decision with serious separation-of-powers implications. While Trump’s pardon power is quasi-absolute, there is widespread agreement that this nonetheless constituted an abuse of his power, something that plainly did not concern Bannon and Miller.
Nor was Trump remotely concerned about the legal details surrounding his use of executive authority to institute the veiled ban on Muslims, or about the prospect that pardoning Arpaio might constitute an abuse of his power. And do we really need to remind you of Trump’s abuses of power and lawlessness in other areas — the emoluments clause violations; the firing of the FBI director over the Russia probe after demanding his loyalty; the rage at his attorney general for failing to protect him from that probe; and the obvious use of the Arpaio pardon to signal that more pardons on Russia may be coming?
To be clear, I’m not arguing that there is not a legitimate debate over whether DACA is constitutional. There is. My own view is that DACA and Obama’s attempted expansion of it, which was blocked by the courts, are legitimate exercises of executive discretion. But it’s not really that unreasonable to argue that they aren’t. DACA and its expansion did push hard into new legal territory. It is plausible that the courts would strike DACA down. This would not be a wildly absurd decision. Similarly, though some conservatives like to pretend DACA’s unconstitutionality is an easy call, this is actually grounds for a legitimate legal dispute in both directions. Indeed, four Supreme Court justices and a host of legal experts, including ones who lean to the right, did not see Obama’s expansion of it as illegal. Many argue DACA is legal.
So this is not a slam-dunk case in either direction. But does anyone really believe that Trump, Bannon or Miller, of all people, are motivated by any good-faith effort to determine whether DACA constitutes an abuse of the president’s power? Come on now. Seriously?
* PUBLIC DISAGREES WITH TRUMP ON ARPAIO, DREAMERS: A new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll finds that Americans say Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was “wrong” by 60 percent to 34 percent. They support protections for the dreamers (which Trump may scrap) by 64 percent to 30 percent. And 71 percent say most undocumented immigrants should be given a path to legalization.
But wait, we keep hearing that Trump’s immigration agenda has the support of a vast silent majority of “the people,” while only “elites” who have contempt for the “deplorables” disagree with it.
* MAJORITY SAYS TRUMP IS ‘TEARING THE COUNTRY APART’: A new Fox News poll finds that 56 percent of Americans believe Trump is “tearing the country apart,” and another 56 percent say Trump doesn’t respect minorities. Meanwhile, all of 18 percent favor a government shutdown to get Trump’s wall on the Mexican border.
One wonders if Trump will dismiss even a Fox poll as #FakeNews …
* MUELLER TEAMS UP WITH NEW YORK’S ATTORNEY GENERAL: Politico reports that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has quietly teamed up with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, to thwart the possibility that Trump might issue pardons:
The cooperation … could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get [former Trump campaign chairman Paul] Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes. … State and federal prosecutors believe the prospect of a presidential pardon could affect whether Manafort decides to cooperate with investigators in the federal Trump investigation, said one of the people familiar with the matter.
This would suggest that Mueller and his investigators may be reading Trump’s pardon of Arpaio as a hint of more pardons to come in the Russia probe, and are preparing accordingly.
* TRUMP SLIDES TOWARDS AUTOCRACY: E.J. Dionne nails it on the larger meaning of Trump’s pardon of Arpaio:
It may be the most dangerous act of Trump’s presidency. The occupant of the White House has claimed the power to permit government agents to violate the constitutional rights of Americans and to override the courts if he doesn’t like what they’re doing. This is the largest single step toward autocracy Trump has taken. … Trump seems to be for his version of “order” but indifferent to the “law” part.
Absolutely right. And this is why Republicans and Democrats need to send a loud signal right now that any pardons in the context of the Russia probe will be met with a forceful response.
* TRUMP ADMINISTRATION STILL THREATENS ACA SABOTAGE: The New York Times reports that the administration is still declining to say whether it will continue paying the cost-sharing subsidies necessary to stabilizing the Affordable Care Act’s markets. Per one official:
The official … declined to say whether the administration would continue paying subsidies to insurance companies to compensate them for reducing deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. … The administration, the official suggested, will do the minimum necessary to comply with the law. … Members of Congress from both parties say they want to provide money for the subsidies, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off.
Crucially, merely signaling uncertainty about whether they will continue is itself destabilizing the markets. But congressional Republicans can fix this by appropriating the money if they wish to.
* TRUMP DISSEMBLES IN SELLING TAX CUTS FOR RICH: In his big speech rolling out his tax-reform non-plan, Trump claimed that the U.S. business tax rate is 60 percent higher than in competing countries. Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee bring the facts:
The United States certainly has one of the highest statutory corporate tax rates in the world. … But the official rate does not necessarily tell the whole story. What also matters is the actual tax a company pays, after deductions and tax benefits. That is known as the effective tax rate, which can be calculated differently depending on the survey. According to the Congressional Research Service, the effective rate for the United States is 27.1 percent, compared to an effective GDP-weighted average of 27.7 percent for the OECD.
If the idea that it’s a huge problem for the country that the wealthy and corporations are paying too much sounds like the same old Republican orthodoxy, that’s because it is.
* WARREN BUFFET: THIS ISN’T TAX REFORM, IT’S TAX CUTS: Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet gives a good quote to Fox Business Network on the real meaning of Trump’s tax “reform” plan:
“I’ve never heard anyone describe a tax move as tax reform if their own taxes were getting increased. So I don’t think we’re talking about tax reform. … It looks like we’re moving more and more towards an overall tax cut. … it will be called tax reform, though.”
All we’ll get in the end is a tax cut whose benefits overwhelmingly flow to top earners, and yes, that is exactly how Republicans will sell it.