As a quite tertiary member of the “liberal elite” media, I’ve been plenty critical of Donald Trump the presidential candidate and the president.
Just when I was convinced POTUS Trump lacked any merit, however, he did something that impressed. I’m feeling obligated to give credit where it’s due.
As a second major hurricane loomed to ravage the southern U.S., both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the federal government at large were about to run out of cash.
Congress needed to fund hurricane relief — and increase the federal debt ceiling to do so — in short order.
Increases in the ceiling have often not come easily. Conservative Republican legislators have been willing to use the threat of a government shutdown and/or default on the federal debt to leverage unrelated spending cuts or concessions on social issues.
Republican leaders, along with rank-and-file moderates, have frequently acquiesced to maintain the appearance of party unity and stave off primary challenges from the far right.
During the most recent episode of this recurring drama, Trump bypassed normal intraparty channels and negotiated directly with Democrats to craft the needed legislation.
Some have viewed this as a slap at Republican congressional leadership, but many moderates were undoubtedly pleased to support the measure while letting Trump deflect any resultant political heat.
Until recently, I would have judged Trump and Co. incapable of such an astute maneuver, but I’m now left to wonder if this tack wasn’t taken in quiet conjunction with mainstream party leaders.
In any case, the move certainly represents a shot across the bow of the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus wing of the GOP.
Angst over the deal is high among this contingent, and they’ve likely been put on notice they can either negotiate in good faith with members of their own party or sit on the sideline as Trump partners with Democrats to serve something they may find completely unpalatable.
It’s about damn time!
Hopefully Trump will use the same approach repeatedly in the future. He might start by taking a leadership role in reincarnating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
DACA is an Obama-era initiative designed to provide quasi-legal status to residents brought into the U.S. as youngsters, usually by their parents, in violation of immigration law.
This well-intentioned program was created via executive order with the expressed purpose of circumventing Congress, which has repeatedly refused to take up immigration reform.
The move was definitely controversial, at worst may have been unconstitutional and at best set a dangerous precedent with the potential to skew our system of checks-and-balances towards disproportionate executive power.
Trump has, probably wisely, suspended the program with an aim to end it in six months.
He nonetheless claims to love the “dreamers” — as DACA participants have come to be known — and has urged Congress to use the six-month window to address their status.
Yet past efforts at immigration reform under Presidents Bush the younger and Obama went nowhere fast largely because of resistance from the Republican right.
Trump may need to orchestrate another end-around, or at least brandish the threat thereof, to achieve a different outcome this time.
Given the urgent need for hurricane relief, Trump risked only minimal partisan blowback for playing the maverick on the debt ceiling.
Getting tough with “illegals” was a key component of his presidential campaign, however, and Trump risks inflaming elements of his loyal but volatile base with a shift to the center on immigration.
Will he be willing to demonstrate the courage and expend the political capital needed to safeguard the dreamers?
If so, I’ll be impressed indeed.
Tim Ackarman, a regular columnist for the Globe Gazette, lives in Miller.