President Trump with House Speaker Paul Ryan. (Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

In January 2017, at a town hall meeting broadcast live to the nation on CNN, Paul Ryan made a heartfelt promise to an anxious “dreamer” mom: He and president-elect Donald Trump would do everything in their power to make sure she could remain in the United States.

“What we have to do is find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law,” Ryan said. “That’s the way we feel. And that is exactly what our new, incoming president has stated he wants to do.” Ryan added that he was “sure” that the young mother is a “great contributor” to her “community.”

Nearly 18 months later, the monstrous reality of this broken promise is perfectly captured in two new episodes: Trump’s raging tirade against his Homeland Security chief over the allegedly insecure border; and Ryan’s craven effort to stop an effort by Republicans in the House to force a vote on bills that would protect the dreamers.

The New York Times reports that Trump erupted in a rage at Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other Cabinet members over the alleged failure to make “progress towards sealing the country’s borders.” According to the Times, Trump also raged about the “continued failure of his administration to find a way to build a wall along the southern border.”

The Post adds more reporting, noting that Trump’s “blowup lasted more than 30 minutes.” His face “reddened” as he railed that Nielsen must “close down” the border and shouted: “We need to shut it down. We’re closed.”

Now, over to Paul Ryan. Vulnerable Republicans in the House are pushing a discharge petition that would force a vote on immigration bills, including two measures that would grant the dreamers legal status, one of them packaged with fortifications to border security. Seventeen Republicans have signed the petition, meaning that if organizers can get eight more, it would pass, since Dems will support it — forcing a full House vote on whether the dreamers will be protected or remain in limbo.

Ryan is trying to stop this from happening. He justifies this by claiming that there’s no sense in voting on measures protecting the dreamers that Trump would veto. As Ryan put it: “We actually would like to solve this problem, and that is why I think it’s important for us to come up with a solution that the president can support.”

But this is utter nonsense, because there isn’t any deal that Trump is willing to support that can pass Congress. Ryan knows his suggestion otherwise is a big lie, because we already tried this. This year Democrats repeatedly offered Trump deals with money for the wall in exchange for protecting the dreamers, and he rejected them all, because Trump also wanted deep cuts to legal immigration. After that, multiple immigration packages failed to pass the Senate. The one based on Trump’s framework — citizenship for 1.8 million dreamers traded for $25 billion in wall money and deep cuts to legal immigration — got the fewest votes, at 39, with 14 Republicans defecting.

The bottom line is that Trump will not accept anything that protects the dreamers unless it also contains deep cuts to legal immigration. But nothing like that can pass Congress, because it faces bipartisan opposition.

Trump’s tirade at Nielsen is a reminder that he is the real obstacle to any deal protecting the dreamers. It reminds us of Trump’s bottomless irrationality on this issue: Border crossings have been at historic lows, but #Foxlandia keeps telling him the border is overrun by invading dark hordes, which makes it true. He is still demanding his wall, but even when that has been offered in exchange for protecting the dreamers, he has rejected it. Yet he raged at Nielsen over the lack of movement on the wall, showing himself unable to comprehend that his own deeply unreasonable demands — which many Republicans have rejected — are the real obstacle to getting it built as part of a dreamer deal.

Indeed, it has become undeniable that Trump’s overriding goal on immigration is to reduce the number of immigrants in the United States to the greatest degree possible. As Eric Levitz notes, Trump moved to end temporary protected status for various groups with no credible rationale for doing so and even though U.S. diplomats have warned that it is dangerously bad policy. And as Trump’s “shithole countries” comment confirmed, his main driving impulse on immigration is white nationalism — rolling back the current racial and ethnic mix of the country at all costs — and this is shaping policy.

The real reason Ryan is blocking a vote on the dreamers

Ryan is trying to prevent a vote to protect the dreamers precisely because such a measure could pass the House. That would expose him to the right’s rage and would probably end up forcing Trump to make the terrible choice of accepting or vetoing it. A deal protecting the dreamers in exchange for border security would probably pass the House by a comfortable margin, and it might pass the Senate — after all, passage in the House would bring tremendous pressure on moderate Republican senators — especially if the White House didn’t actively lobby against it.

But Trump will not accept any deal to protect the dreamers, even though it could very likely pass both chambers, unless it also contains deep cuts to legal immigration. So if the House passed it, the White House would lobby the Senate against it, and if that failed, Trump would then have to veto it. Either of those would look horrible, because after House passage, suddenly protections for the dreamers would appear in reach. This is the spectacle that Ryan is trying to avert — all to protect Trump from having his true priorities revealed in all their ugly glory.

* HOW MICHAEL COHEN’S SCHEME WORKED: The Post reports that internal AT&T documents show that the company paid Cohen $600,000 for “advice” on dealing with the Trump administration’s treatment of its proposed merger:

The internal AT&T documents show that Cohen was supposed to spend half his time on “legislative policy development” and the other half on “regulatory policy development.” Payments to Cohen were approved by two executives in AT&T’s public affairs office in Washington.

Right, because Cohen is such a dazzlingly brilliant expert in telecom policy.

* RUDY’S FIRM RUNS FROM HIS SPIN: Rudy Giuliani has left his law firm Greenberg Traurig, which put out a statement distancing itself from his claim that lawyers regularly pay off people without clients knowing it (as Michael Cohen did with Stormy Daniels):

“We cannot speak for Mr. Giuliani with respect to what was intended by his remarks,” said a spokeswoman, Jill Perry. “Speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge and direction of a client.”

Of course, because Rudy is full of it. And by the way, we still don’t even know if it’s true that Trump didn’t have any knowledge of the payment.

* REPUBLICAN PLANS NEW ASSAULT ON MUELLER PROBE: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the head of the Freedom Caucus, is planning to demand a financial audit of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation: Here’s the real goal:

The pending request … appears to be mainly calibrated to force the disclosure of a three-page Justice Department memo spelling out the authorized scope of Mueller’s investigation. … Only a heavily redacted version has been publicly shared … because, according to people familiar with the Justice Department’s thinking, prosecutors think its full disclosure could compromise Mueller’s probe.

Of course, the fact that this could compromise the Mueller probe is the whole point of the exercise.

* A ‘PLAN B’ TO PROTECT MUELLER: With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still refusing a vote on a Mueller protection bill, NBC News reports that Democratic senators will push another measure to protect the investigation:

According to three people briefed on the discussions, ideas include: Requiring that Congress receive Mueller’s final report; allowing Mueller, in the event he is fired, to release his findings publicly; or allowing him to resign and release his work if he feels his investigation is being improperly stifled.

This would only protect and guarantee transparency on Mueller’s findings, never mind protecting Mueller’s job. One looks forward to seeing how Republicans justify opposing this.

* TRUMP POLICIES HURT HIS VOTERS: Paul Krugman notes that Trump and Republicans are trying to slash funding for food stamps, and adds:

Some of the biggest victims of Trump’s obsession with cutting “welfare” will be the very people who put him in office. Consider Owsley County, Ky., at the epicenter of Appalachia’s regional crisis. More than half the county’s population receives food stamps; 84 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2016. Did they know what they were voting for?

Surely the huge tax cuts for corporations, the deportations, and the efforts to keep out desperate refugees will shower Appalachia with prosperity, so who needs food stamps anymore?

* KELLY: UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS ARE UNEDUCATED: A remarkable quote to NPR from White House chief of staff John Kelly:

“The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. … But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing. … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws.”

Well, at least Kelly said they aren’t criminals, which is better than what Trump himself says.