Try to keep up: In an attempt to lick his wounds from the revolving door of legislative failures related to repealing the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump jetted off to West Virginia to speak in front of some 40,000 Boy Scouts, where he opened with the obviously presidential statement, “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” He then fired Anthony Scaramucci after only 10 days of service, called the White House “a dump,” authorized his Justice Department to launch a war against America’s public and private universities over affirmative action and finally signed a “seriously flawed” (his words) bipartisan bill that limits his ability to ease sanctions against Russia.
Overall, this political blitzkrieg paints a clear picture that the Trump administration has become confused and catatonic in determining its primary agenda—worrisome, because it was impressively tuned on the campaign trail. This morning, Trump made the attempt to get back to one of those big agenda items that won him millions of votes: revamping the United States’s immigration policies.
Meeting with two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, in the White House on Wednesday, Trump announced his support for the RAISE Act, or Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy. NPR’s John Burnett summed up the tenets of the act upon the announcement:
Their bill would do three things: First, limit the number of foreign nationals who are able to get green cards to reunite with their families already in the U.S. — currently the largest category of legal immigrants; second, cut the number of refugees in half; third, eliminate the diversity visa lottery — a program that gives visas to countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
With his efforts to curtail illegal immigration effectively at a standstill—the House of Representatives approved $1.6 billion for the Mexico-U.S. border wall, but that budget won’t go up for a vote until October—Trump is now focusing on legal immigration, an issue he last tackled with the bigly controversial Muslim ban, which finally took effect in late June, six months after Trump signed Executive Order 13769.
The Supreme Court is expected to review the constitutionality of that travel ban, which was retooled and retitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” in the fall. In the meantime, the RAISE Act signals yet another avenue upon which Trump is putting his tweets behind in an effort to make any real reform stick. Given Trump’s recent track record of effecting change, the chances that the RAISE Act will ever make its way to the Oval Office for a signature, however, are slim.
Members inside Trump’s inner sanctum are more focused on their own survival than making sure POTUS communicates his agenda with nuance.
While the “America first” framing of the bill—Trump says it “will reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars"—will excite his MAGA base and the reddest of Republicans, Congress at large is becoming increasingly exhausted with the president’s haphazard policy pushes that draw more controversy than Congressional support. After the failure of the Senate to pass the "skinny repeal” of Obamacare, moderate Republicans specifically are becoming less loyal to their president, who is now taunting GOPers with the threat of losing reelection in 2018 should they defect. But Trump’s threats are not leadership, whether tweeted or executively ordered, and with party leaders like John McCain and Lindsey Graham speaking out more against Trump, other influential Republicans could soon follow in a domino-like fashion.
Strategies for achieving appeasement and navigating Congress typically fall on the shoulders of the president’s Cabinet, but Trump’s administration is in chaos following an onset of resignations, firings, recusals and testimonies. Members inside Trump’s inner sanctum, from Jared Kushner to Mike Pence, are currently more focused on their own survival—politically, legally and socially—than making sure POTUS communicates his agenda with enough nuance for some items to gain enough support. Such was exemplified in Trump announcing a ban on transgender people in the military without simultaneously providing the Pentagon a single piece of direction for doing so. Some called the order a distraction when instead its half-baked execution was pure delusion.
But Trump doesn’t answer to anyone—not even Kellyanne Conway, who is on clean-up duty more and more these days—and no one within the White House seems to be eager to set him straight, less they too be fired, except for Steve Bannon, the real man calling the shots.
The irony with Trump’s return to immigration at a time when his popularity hovers at an all-time low of 37 percent is that the very department that would enforce his orders doesn’t have enough resources to do so. Back in January, Trump issued an executive order informing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to hire an additional 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 immigration officers, ignoring an order he made two days earlier to freeze all hires in the federal government. In other words, immigration reform has been an organizational disaster from the start.
The Department of Homeland Security would have to receive 1,251,750 job applicants to make 15,000 hires.
On Monday, the Office of Inspector General, the agency overseeing the DHS, released a report that analyzed the administration’s ability to hire 15,000 new immigration officers and border patrol agents. It’s near impossible to get a job in the department in the first place, let alone hire 15,000 qualified agents. The hiring process is so strict that based on previous hiring figures, the department would have to receive 1,251,750 job applicants to make 15,000 hires.
According to internal memos obtained by Foreign Policy, Customs and Border Protection is considering loosening the agency’s stringent requirements to meet a more achievable hiring goal. One former DHS official who’d spoken with the outlet said existing requirements are “insanely cumbersome” and a big reason why the agency has more difficulty recruiting versus other law enforcement agencies.
Even if all goes goes well, it’s going to cost taxpayers a pretty penny. The memo estimates that that large a work force will cost about $2.2 billion and the process would take five years. Some DHS officials even fear new blood may be more susceptible to corruption, due to being accepted under lower standards.
While some kinks are still being ironed out, the administration will have to act fast. In April, an OIG report revealed that, if hiring remains a top priority—and with immigration back in the spotlight, it should—some serious internal changes would be necessary. The report detailed what a disaster the jurisdiction is, all of which sprout from employees being wildly overworked. The report revealed that ICE deportation officers in charge of “non-detained” immigrants were responsible for supervising between 1,700 and 10,000 immigrants. The ratio of officers overseeing detained immigrants, however, was between 65 to 104 immigrants per person.
“ICE is almost certainly not deporting all the aliens who could be deported and will likely not be able to keep up with growing numbers of deportable aliens,” the report said.
Altogether, the massive oversights by the Trump administration in terms of effectively working with Congress and managing the government’s resources underline a major lapse within the White House: it takes more than one man to make America great again.