A highly self-satisfied Attorney General Jeff Sessions had his long-awaited moment in the sun on Tuesday morning when he stood before the American people and declared that nearly 800,000 young people may be deported for simply doing what their parents and their government told them to do. He proclaimed that the executive branch had no legal authority to issue the DACA policy and that the Department of Justice was therefore rescinding it, to take effect six months from now -- supposedly to give Congress time to pass something to fix the situation. (He didn't mention that Congress had already tried and failed numerous times because anti-immigrant zealots, led by then-Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, blocked the legislation.)
His legal analysis is questionable, to say the least. But Sessions went on to make it clear that the underlying reason for the decision is that the "Dreamers" have stolen the jobs of deserving Real Americans, and he also claimed the policy had drawn child refugees to the border. (Those are lies.) He associated immigrants with crime, violence and terrorism. He called them "illegal aliens." It was an ugly performance.
President Trump seemed to be out to lunch all day, merely telling the cameras at one point that he hoped Congress would do something and pointing out that the Dreamers are actually young adults, as if that makes a difference. Then, after the White House issued a formal statement saying that “there can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will," the president issued this weird tweet:
Clearly, he didn't read Sessions' statement or his own -- or didn't understand them if he did. We have no idea what he's talking about at this point, and neither does he.
I don't find Trump's tweet surprising, frankly. He has already shown that he thinks Congress and the courts are like the HR and accounting departments at the Trump Organization, and he's the big boss. But in this case, if Congress fails to provide the Dreamers with a secure future and the president rescinds his rescission, then fine. But it will be very interesting to see how the administration jumps through hoops to explain itself if he does.
Meanwhile, the focus now moves to Congress, where members looked as if they'd been run over by a Mack truck on their first day back in session. Nobody wants to deal with this highly emotional hot potato in the middle of what was already going to be a brutal September. They must raise the debt ceiling, pass a continuing budget resolution, address the situation with health care payments and deal with massive hurricane relief funding -- and now Trump wants them to try to repeal Obamacare one more time. Dealing with the fallout from this ill-timed DACA decision is the last thing they needed.
Just to make the whole situation really crazy, our old friend Steve Bannon has apparently taken on the role of chief strategist for the extremist faction of the GOP. Jonathan Swan at Axios reported that Bannon recently met with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the head of the House Freedom Caucus, which has about 40 hardcore right-wing members ready to rumble. Swan writes that they plan to fight the leadership's decision to attach hurricane relief to the debt ceiling increase. The only good news is that unctuous Sen. Ted Cruz won't be leading the opposition to relief funds this time around, since his constituents in Texas are the ones who need it. Swan quotes a source saying this:
This is bigger than Breitbart or the Freedom Caucus . . . The topics discussed included conservative alternatives to everything the anti-Trump Republican leadership has planned on every major policy matter facing the United States of America in September. Including Paul Ryan's and Mitch McConnell's demonstrated failure to govern, and how to effectively implement the Trump agenda moving forward.
A source told Hallie Jackson and Kristen Welker of MSNBC that "they focused on the idea that the GOP should brace for a 'bloody September,' as the president's far-right base prepares to dig in on key issues from DACA to the debt ceiling." This may well include Bannon's desire to settle scores with his enemies, like White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, but it's also likely to result in some twisted legislative scenarios in which Republicans will be battling each other simply to keep the country from defaulting on its debts or the government from shutting down.
Bannon has been pushing for brinksmanship from inside the White House since January, and now that he's out, he's coming at it from the direction of Congress instead. If reports are true that he's been strategizing with Meadows to thwart the plan to couple the debt ceiling with hurricane relief funding, then he's working directly against his old boss. The White House is endorsing that move, and will tell congressional leaders there is no money to pay for the flood damage if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Meadows told Breitbart on Tuesday that he's having none of it.
As for DACA, Bannon supposedly has some tolerance for the Dreamers because he thinks they are "culturally American," perfectly illustrating that it's fatuous to claim that his "economic nationalism" has no racial or ethnic component. ("Culture" in that context is a white supremacist buzzword and has nothing to do with economics.)
According to BuzzFeed, Bannon believes DACA is "a strategic asset" in the immigration debates. In other words, it can be traded for certain items that he and the hardliners would like to achieve in addition to the all-important border wall funding, including building more jails and "sharply increasing enforcement and deporting millions."
Bannon's most famous quote is:
Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment.
He helped get Donald Trump into the White House. Now that he's out, he's working with congressional extremists and warning that it will be a "bloody September." So far everything's going according to plan.