Trump reacts after pressure from hard-right, anti-immigration activists

Developments on Day 437 of the Trump Administration:

See also VideoCast with CNN: Explaining Trump’s Twitter Blast Over Immigration
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Demanding his $25 billion Wall with Mexico, Donald Trump tweets an ultimatum threatening the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement and of almost 800,000 “Dreamer” immigrants in the US.

At his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to play golf and watch TV, Trump put out a series of distorted statements in his warning:

There is no evidence that border guards have been restricted from seizures and detentions because of the requirement for due process of law — indeed, Trump has previously boasted of the sharp increase in apprehension of would-be immigrants — although some have been released because there is nowhere to hold them as they await a hearing before a judge. Any person who did make it into the US would not be covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 order signed by Barack Obama about children who have previously entered the US with undocumented parents. And Trump’s “caravans” is actually a convoy of 1,500 people making a political point by moving through Mexico to test entry into the US.

It is unclear if Trump is ignorant of all this, or whether he was deliberately manipulating reality to whip up his supporters. In a brief statement to reporters as he went to church, Trump repeated the falsehood, “A lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of DACA….[Mexico] sends them into the United States.”

Trump continued on Twitter, “These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!”

Tweeting Under Pressure

Trump has been agitated all month that he could not full funding of his Wall. Acting in the absence of an Administration budget, Congress passed a six-month spending bill earlier this month which allocates only $1.6 billion — and even that disbursement faces tight restrictions.

Trump briefly threatened to shut down the Government by vetoing the bill, but was pulled back by advisors who said the US military — which has an assurance of increased funding under the measure — would be damaged.

Trump has then faced the anger of hard-right, anti-immigrantion agitators. Ann Coulter, given a platform in an interview with The New York Times, called the President “weak” and an “ignoramus”. Trump’s Sunday tweets came minutes after a Fox and Friends segment on immigration.

Both Fox and the attack site Breitbart have played up the threat of “caravans” moving through Mexico. Brandon Judd, the President of the National Border Patrol Council, issued remarks on Fox and Friends on Sunday morning that were later embedded in Trump’s messages:

Our legislators actually have to stand up, and the Republicans control the House and the Senate, they do not need the Democrat support to pass any laws they want. They can go the nuclear option, just like what they did on the confirmation. They need to pass laws to end the catch-and-release program that’ll allow us to hold them for a long time.

Perhaps most importantly, while staff such as Chief of Staff John Kelly remained in Washington, Trump was accompanied in Florida by the driving force behind a hard-right approach to immigration, advisor Stephen Miller.

Courts and NAFTA Stand in the Way

Trump may continue to find himself frustrated. Courts have held up his termination of DACA, which was scheduled for March 5, and thus the threatened deportation of the Dreamers. Congress is unlikely to back his latest idea for the Wall’s $25 billion, taking it from the Pentagon funds assured until September.

That leaves the threat to NAFTA. Trump is unlikely to rip up the 25-year-old deal; however, he and his advisors have sought leverage to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.

But the limits of pressure were exposed earlier this month with Trump’s ill-fated, impulsive imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs. Canada, the largest steel exporter to the US, objected, and Trump — faced with a possible illegal action under NAFTA’s terms as well as political considerations — was forced to issue an exemption to the Canadians and, eventually, other US allies.

Trump did not refer to the obstacle in his Twitter barrage. Instead, he misrepresented NAFTA as a giveaway program rather than a trade agreement seeking to benefit all parties, reducing it to Mexico’s “cash cow”.