For nearly an hour Tuesday, President Donald Trump presided under an unusually public negotiating session on the subject of immigration, running the meeting while TV cameras rolled in a seeming rebuke of reports that he is less than a fully capable commander-in-chief.
Surrounded by 25 lawmakers inside the Cabinet Room, Trump held court over the bipartisan meeting, alternately inviting Democrats and Republicans—by name—to address the group. He presided for 55 minutes over a relatively free-flowing discussion between lawmakers about the future of the DACA program, border security and the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
“You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform,” the president told the group.
That reporters and television cameras were allowed to sit in on such negotiations was unexpected. The event had been billed on the official White House schedule as a pool spray, typically brief affairs where the president offers short remarks and sometimes answers a handful of questions before the press is hurried out.
The Republican National Committee, in an email bearing the subject line “betcha haven’t seen that before,” quickly circulated screenshots of Twitter posts from reporters noting how extraordinary it was to watch the president negotiate in real time and praising him for opening the meeting up to the press.
“Many in the media have spent the last week hyperventilating over a phony writer’s opinions, but the American people just witnessed President Trump lead arguably the most transparent, substantive policy discussion with Congress – maybe ever,” the RNC email read. “It’s more evidence of President Trump delivering on his promise to tackle tough issues like immigration for the American people.”
Trump has spent the past week fuming about suggestions raised by Michael Wolff’s recently released tell-all, “Fire and Fury,” that he is impaired by mental decline, prone to repeating himself on an ever-condensing loop and unable to recognize old friends.
The Trump on display Tuesday seemed the opposite of the one described in Wolff’s book.
The president urged lawmakers to codify into law protections for so-called “dreamers” – undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children – and pledging to “take the heat” if Congress pushes even further and reaches a deal on comprehensive immigration reform. He also suggested a return to the Congressional practice of earmarks and opined on the news of the day, chiefly the idea that television mogul Oprah Winfrey might run for president in 2020.
He made one noticeable slip-up, responding warmly to California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s suggestion that he support a “clean” bill on DACA—that is, one without any funding for the border wall Trump has promised since the campaign. Later in the meeting, Trump added, “You need the wall.”
The president drew attention to questions about his mental fitness in a series of tweets over the weekend, in which he boasted that he is “a very stable genius.”
On Monday, questions were further revived when Trump appeared not to sing all the words to the national anthem as he stood on the field before the College Football Playoff championship game in Atlanta. Online, social media users wondered whether Trump knew the words to the national anthem, a song he has vaulted into the national discussion by complaining about NFL players who kneel while it’s played at professional games.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), once a fierce Trump critic who has lately become a golf buddy and booster of the president, said Tuesday’s televised White House encounter was “the most fascinating meeting I’ve been involved with in twenty plus years in politics.”
“I very much appreciate President Trump’s attitude, demeanor, and desire to get something done that will make our nation more secure – while being fair to the Dreamers,” Graham said in a statement. “President Trump has the right attitude. Now it is up to all of us in Congress to come up with a proposal that gets the job done.”