Ahead of the White House’s first official Cabinet meeting of 2018, held this afternoon, President Trump boasted of the outpouring of praise he says he received after Tuesday’s bipartisan meeting on immigration, where the president allowed cameras to broadcast about an hour of of discussion between himself and House Democrats and Republicans. Trump claimed that he received “letters of congratulations” from news anchors saying that the televised gathering “was one of the greatest meetings they’ve ever witnessed.” Although it’s rare that reporters are granted access to negotiations that are in progress between lawmakers, Politico speculated that Trump invited reporters to watch him conduct a meeting in order to dispel the observation advanced by the Michael Wolff tell-all Fire and Fury that he is incapable of fulfilling the duties of the office.
On topic of yesterday’s White House meeting w/members of Congress about immigration, Trump says he received “letters” from news anchors claiming “it was one of the greatest meetings they’ve ever witnesses.
“They probably wish they didn’t send us those letters of congratulations” pic.twitter.com/Uf6ezYI4iD
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 10, 2018
Was it the greatest meeting ever witnessed? That depends on who you ask. Trump tended to contradict both his position and his understanding of what an immigration reform bill would entail depending on whatever the last person said to him, and telegraphed that he would sign any piece of paper that ended up on the Resolute desk. Democrats, however, might think the meeting went well given how Trump answered in the affirmative to Diane Feinstein’s question on if the president would support “a clean DACA bill” to address the program’s looming March expiration date.
“Yeah, I would like to do it,” the master-negotiator-in-chief responded, confounding Republicans who were expecting a more sweeping immigration reform package, including the construction of the Mexican border wall.
“Mr. President, you need to be clear, though,” a noticeably alarmed Kevin McCarthy (majority leader of the House) interjected. “I think what Senator Feinstein is asking here—when we talk about just DACA, we don’t want to be back here two years later. You have to have security.”
Here’s the incredible moment where Trump initially agrees to Feinstein’s suggestion that they do a clean DACA bill, before being corrected by Republicans about what she was actually suggesting. pic.twitter.com/RaXAQAi8JF
— David Mack (@davidmackau) January 9, 2018
CNN’s Jim Acosta attempted to verify Trump’s claim regarding the glowing letters he supposedly received and was issued a list of clips of his own network’s coverage along with tweets consisting, in part, of reporters marveling that typically private negotiation were made public. There was no praise for the president’s negotiating prowess, demonstrated understanding of policy, or overall competence from any non-partisan feeds.
WH sent a list of video clips (from CNN) and tweets to back up Trump claim that he’s received “letters” from “anchors” praising his performance at DACA meeting pic.twitter.com/wH7XHf79Tk
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 10, 2018
More of the tweets provided by WH to back up Trump on “letters” from “anchors… pic.twitter.com/UkpkPYhL8g
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 10, 2018
“This 50+-minute pool spray of DACA/border/immigration negotiations between Pres. Trump and a big bipartisan group of members of Congress is truly a fly-on-the-wall fascinating thing to observe,” MSNBC producer Kailani Koenig tweeted.
“This meeting in the Cabinet Room makes me yearn for cameras in these meetings all the time,” CNN political director David Chalian tweeted. “There are real authentic ‘in the room’ moments happening between the performances for the cameras.”
“I can never remember seeing a president convene a discussion of an issue with this many congressional voices and this many viewpoints being discussed publicly,” ABC News political director Rick Klein tweeted, forgetting about President Obama’s 2010 televised healthcare debate with the House GOP. “Pretty remarkable day at the White House.”
If anything, Trump is being praised for the showmanship of the meeting rather than the substance, which is particularly troubling considering how unlikely it is that the discussion actually accomplished anything. There was a private “closed-door portion” of the meeting which White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the lawmakers “reached an agreement to negotiate legislation that accomplishes critically needed reforms in four high-priority areas: border security, chain migration, the visa lottery, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.” Also, the White House’s transcript of the meeting curiously redacted Trump’s “Yeah, I would like to do it” affirmation to Feinstein’s clean DACA bill proposal. A corrected transcript was released on Wednesday.
Maybe it was interesting to see members of both sides of the aisle debate a proposed piece of legislation, but it was also a show. We have no way of knowing how the televised portion of the meeting was affected by it being filmed. Did the members of Congress censor themselves or hold things back that they wouldn’t want the public to know? That the meeting was eventually closed would indicate that they did. Non-partisan commentators applauding Trump for staging dramatic television is eating right out of his hand, and repeating the sins that got him elected in the first place.