The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump threatened to bury his DACA decision. He put neon lights on it, instead.

President Trump's position on DACA has taken several twists and turns over the years. (Video: Meg Kelly, Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)
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Maybe he was just messing with the media.

President Trump on Friday told reporters that he would announce a decision on an Obama-era immigration program “sometime today or over the weekend,” raising the prospect of another White House news dump. A short time later, however, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Tuesday will be the day Trump makes the call on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offers two-year work permits to people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

After threatening to bury his announcement under the hubbub of a holiday weekend, Trump has effectively put neon lights on it, instead. The public and the press will have almost a full business week to pick it apart.

The president's initial tease came as no surprise. He has wrestled publicly with his decision and is guaranteed to spark outrage no matter what he does. He vowed as a candidate to rescind the executive action President Barack Obama signed in 2012 and would surely infuriate many supporters if he were to break his promise. He is equally certain to anger opponents by keeping his word.

There is even a third group, comprising such prominent Republicans as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), that wants Trump to tear up Obama's order, but only after Congress passes a replacement. These lawmakers' principal objection is not to the policy but to the way Obama implemented it.

Paul Ryan and the conservative case for President Trump to keep DACA

A textbook news dump — carefully timed to avoid the full attention of the public and the press because much of the reaction will be unfavorable — would have made sense and been in keeping with White House practices.

Only a week ago, Trump dumped his pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and the details of a ban on transgender military service members late on a Friday as Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. On Monday, he had the gall to claim that he was trying to amplify the news, not bury it, by releasing it at a time when the country was almost singularly focused on the storm.

“In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” he told reporters at a joint news conference with Finland's president.

(What would have been Trump's excuse on DACA? He thought TV ratings would be higher on Labor Day weekend because vacationers would be checking traffic reports?)

Trump knows how to attract eyeballs when he wants to. Think of the news conference he called in prime time on a Tuesday to nominate Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Emailing a written statement to reporters just before a natural disaster is not the way to draw the spotlight.

It is impossible to completely hide news, of course, and anything as significant — and polarizing — as the way the country enforces immigration laws would have generated coverage long past Labor Day, anyway. The news dump ain't what it used to be, in the days when information traveled mostly on paper.

But the effectiveness of a news dump in 2017 is beside the point; the point is whether the president tries to slip one past us or boldly speaks his mind.

If Trump follows through on his campaign pledge, supporters might wonder why he did not do so on his first day in office, as promised, but they should be heartened by his willingness to make the announcement with fanfare.

And if he disappoints those same people by breaking his promise, perhaps he will get some credit for being upfront.