We’re going to call this crumbs or nothing, because after President Donald Trump’s order Tuesday to essentially shut down the EPA in advance of the confirmation process for the nominee for that agency’s head Scott Pruitt what is coming on Wednesday is another unmistakable manifestation of a strategy to present Senate Democrats with a Hobson’s choice between personnel they won’t like and policy they simply cannot endure.
With Pruitt, it’s quite obvious the Democrats will have to stomach a sizable diminution of the EPA’s regulatory vigor – perhaps on a permanent basis. But should they attempt to hold up his nomination, Trump has signaled they’ll simply be bringing on a total shutdown of the agency.
Something similar is coming with respect to Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, and Trump’s take-it-or-leave-it this time is even more dramatic.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign executive orders starting on Wednesday that include a temporary ban on most refugees and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries, according to several congressional aides and immigration experts briefed on the matter.
Trump, who tweeted on Tuesday night that a “big day” was planned on national security on Wednesday, is expected to order a multi-month ban on allowing refugees into the United States except for religious minorities escaping persecution, until more aggressive vetting is in place.
Another order will block visas being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, said the aides and experts, who asked not to be identified.
In his tweet late on Tuesday, Trump said: “Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!”
The border security measures likely include directing the construction of a border wall with Mexico and other actions to reduce the number of illegal immigrants living inside the United States.
The sources have said the first of the orders will be signed on Wednesday. With Trump considering measures to tighten border security, he could turn his attention to the refugee issue later this week.
Stephen Legomsky, who was chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, said the president had the authority to limit refugee admissions and the issuance of visas to specific countries if the administration determined it was in the public’s interest.
“From a legal standpoint, it would be exactly within his legal rights,” said Legomsky, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “But from a policy standpoint, it would be terrible idea because there is such an urgent humanitarian need right now for refugees.”
Trump made a lot of waves last year when he suggested a temporary ban on bringing any Muslims into the country until the government could figure out a satisfactory way to weed out potential jihadist threats from those populations. That was better understood as a sentiment than an actual policy proposal; under the advice of his current Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, Trump moved toward a more targeted position; namely that he’d pick countries where proper vetting is more difficult than most and where the jihadist element is more prevalent. Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are just about the most perfect examples under the sun for such at-risk and unvettable populations; the only question would be why Afghanistan and Pakistan wouldn’t be considered similarly.
But here’s the money piece to this…
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that the State and Homeland Security Departments would work on the vetting process once Trump’s nominee to head the State Department, Rex Tillerson, is installed.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that without Sessions being confirmed it’s not really possible to arrive at a finished vetting process, either. So the Democrats can either swallow Tillerson and Sessions, or they can stand slack-jawed as Trump actually makes good on a sizable chunk of his no-Muslims promise.
And with Tillerson, they’re going to get elements of foreign policy they won’t like at all – and given their histrionics at Sessions’ confirmation hearings they absolutely won’t like what he’ll be doing with the Department of Justice.
Consider those as crumbs, of course. They won’t hate everything Tillerson will do; most people who have observed the former ExxonMobil CEO in action agree that he’s a very sharp, highly capable executive with strategic vision and world-class negotiation skills. And with Sessions – well, they might actually consider him worse than a great deal of what Trump might inflict on the federal government should they try to hold him.
But the alternative is, of course, nothing. A large share of the people who voted for Trump would have no trouble with the idea that nobody from those six countries could ever come to America. The price Trump would pay politically for such a policy is minimal. But it would drive the Democrats absolutely insane were it to be permanent U.S. policy not to take refugees or other migrants from such countries.
It will be worth watching as Trump’s actions tumble forward to see how often the crumbs-or-nothing game is played. It seems as though it might become standard fare for the man who wrote The Art Of The Deal as he brings real-world hardball negotiations to the fantasy world inside the Beltway.