Wednesday night, President Donald Trump dined with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Fraternizing with the enemy is curious enough, especially for a president who has shown no previous desire to govern from the center, but what happened next was wholly unexpected.
The following day, Schumer and Pelosi claimed to have reached a compromise with the president. In exchange for increased security funding, Trump would support a legislative push to enshrine the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, into law. No funds would be directed toward the infamous border wall proposal.
The president is flip-flopping on DACA — he was the one who originally rescinded Barack Obama’s previous executive order that implemented it, after all. Most likely, the president was unaware of either the political unpopularity or moral reprehensibility of this course of action when he first announced it. He could be seeking to make amends for what was, simply, a mistake.
Or perhaps he really does think the Obama-era policy was unconstitutional. It’s often hard to determine a politician’s true motives, and that’s more the case with this president than most.
Trump, however, is playing coy about his rendezvous with Chuck and Nancy. On Thursday, his press secretary claimed that leaving the border wall out of the arrangement was never fully agreed upon, contradicting the Democrats’ claims. Wittingly or not, this obfuscation will mitigate potential fallout with the base, those supporters whom Trump promised a “big, beautiful wall” between the U.S. and Mexico.
These developments come against a background of relative failure for the governing party, which currently controls the executive branch and both houses of Congress. Despite this, the Republicans still have yet to pass any substantive new legislation on tax reform, immigration and, most notably, health care. Tax reform is, admittedly, still in the works, but in the meantime Trump might be fishing for an easy win — and betting that working across the aisle is the way to make it happen.
Additionally, Trump could simply be tired of working with Republican leaders, namely House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Last month, journalistic sleuthing revealed the ongoing feud between McConnell and the president had reached a fever pitch. Then came Trump’s sly betrayal of his own party last week, when he lent support to a Democratic deal to forestall a vote on raising the debt ceiling by a mere three months, an arrangement which caused frustration for Ryan and McConnell.
After that deal, I wrote that “Trump isn’t pivoting.” Perhaps I was wrong, and our notoriously mercurial president is truly embracing the Democrats on at least some issues. But Trump’s lack of a clear statement on such, and his tendency to muddy the waters, changing his mind on a whim, makes it hard to know.
Only time will tell.