Even for Trump, this is pretty Trump. Ben Shapiro’s right:
This isn't unique to Nielsen. See, e.g., Betsy Devos being undercut after Trump put her out front on the Special Olympics issue. Or Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell being undercut during budget negotiations.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 8, 2019
“Nielsen’s demise is the clearest indication yet of the impossibility of reconciling Trump’s ideological and emotional instincts on immigration — which helped make him President — with legal, humanitarian and international realities,” writes Stephen Collinson at CNN. Family separation is the ultimate example because, assuming Trump really does bring it back, it’ll represent a reversal of a reversal. The policy was briefly implemented last year when he wanted to show how far he was willing to go to deter illegals but it sparked a nasty backlash in polling, made even the First Lady uncomfortable, and ultimately led to him ending his own policy via executive order. Almost a year later, that experiment with family separation is still generating bad headlines for him.
I think he goes through a perpetual cycle of wanting to show strength, wavering when he’s confronted with evidence that his show of strength is unpopular, then resenting his advisors for having talked him out of following his instincts. (We’re all but guaranteed to see another shutdown over wall funding eventually since he ended up capitulating on the last one.) He probably looks at the crush of asylum-seekers at the border over the past six months and tells himself it never would have happened if Nielsen and the other alleged squishes around him hadn’t convinced him not to be so “tough” last year. Go figure that family separation is back on the table the day after Nielsen is finally out:
President Donald Trump has for months urged his administration to reinstate large-scale separation of migrant families crossing the border, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of meetings at the White House…
According to two of the sources, Nielsen told Trump that federal court orders prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from reinstating the policy, and that he would be reversing his own executive order from June that ended family separations…
Trump has been pushing this policy since January, the sources said, when the numbers of undocumented immigrants crossing the border began to rise.
That type of exchange seems to have been a core feature of their relationship:
The president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.
Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further.
Trump getting angry at Nielsen for informing him, accurately, that what he wants to do is against the law is very on-brand, and no doubt an experience other current and former Trump advisors can relate to.
Per NBC, the new family separation policy wouldn’t be identical to the one implemented last year. The old one required minor children to be separated from their parents; the new one, favored by Trump and de facto immigration czar Stephen Miller, would give families a “binary choice” to either stay together in detention indefinitely while they wait for their immigration case to be adjudicated or to separate children from parents while the latter remain in detention. Catch-and-release of the entire family is no longer an option. Whether “binary choice” is legal is an open question, though. Since there’s a court ruling on the books interpreting the Flores settlement as limiting detention of minors to 20 days, could immigrant parents even lawfully choose to keep their kids with them in detention beyond that point? If not, Trump will be forced to either back down again or to reinstate the original version of the policy, with mandatory separation of parents and children.
Why would he do that given how unpopular it was last year? He may figure that the public will cut him more slack as the number of asylum-seekers at the border surges. Since Democrats won’t lift a finger to deter immigration, Trump’s going to go back to the strongest deterrent he has in his executive arsenal. Maybe the polling will be better this time. Even if it isn’t, he’s all but given up on trying to win over swing voters with his policies. The shutdown over the wall proved that he thinks the key to victory is the same as it was in 2016, getting his base fired up to go out and outvote the Democrats in key states. The fact that there’s a crunch at the border is bad optics for him on the right, particularly given his failure to do anything meaningful about the wall in his first two years. There are many problems left unsolved that Trump can campaign on again but immigration is a sticky one: Border-crossings were supposed to go down during a Trump presidency, not up. The wall-funding standoff and now a 2.0 version of family separation is him doing everything he can to show MAGA Nation that he’s being “tough.” If the courts step in to block him, either on the border emergency or on family separation, at least he can say to supporters next fall that he left it all out on the field.
Exit question: Is there, er, going to be anyone still working for the Department of Homeland Security next week?
Big concern among Trump administration officials is this perceived purge of senior national security officials — DHS Secy Nielsen and USSS Director fired, ICE director nominee pulled, other senior DHS officials at risk (DHS general counsel, USCIS dir, Acting DHS deputy secy).
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) April 8, 2019