Watching President’s Trump’s confrontation on Tuesday with Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi on the subject of immigration, I found myself asking, “Is Donald Trump the most honest president ever?”
To be sure, Trump is something of a blowhard. To be sure, he can be fairly indifferent to facts, but on big issues, as Pelosi and Schumer experienced up close, he says what he means.
This is a refreshing contrast to his predecessor. Barack Obama may have been stronger on petty details, but he could be stunningly dishonest on the issues of consequence, immigration among them.
In the way of background, since Year One of the Bush 43 administration, Congress had been trying to pass the awkwardly titled Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act.
This was an idealized acronym concocted to paper over what was essentially a crime, a geopolitical B & E, breaking and entering.
Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Orrin Hatch first introduced the bill in the Senate in August 2001. This was still another bipartisan fandango in the allegedly polarizing Bush era.
In a nutshell, this bill would have provided permanent residency to those illegal aliens who had arrived in the United States as minors and behaved themselves well enough not to get their mug shot plastered on the Post Office wall.
Although President Bush supported immigration reform, as did President Obama, neither the DREAM Act nor any major immigration bill made it to their desks. The reason was simple enough: No variation of such a bill could muster adequate congressional support.
In 2009, eight powerful U.S. senators sponsored still another version of the DREAM Act. Among the sponsors were two Republicans, Richard Lugar and Mel Martinez, as well as independent Joseph Lieberman.
During this two-year period, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Still, the will was not there, nor was the White House leadership, to pass this bill out of the Senate.
In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama argued that checks and balances and robust congressional debates “encouraged the very process of information gathering, analysis and argument.”
Once Obama ascended to the presidency, all those checks and balances just made it harder for him to transform America. His constituencies, especially labor and the Hispanic lobby, wanted action, not gathering and arguing.
They started leaning on him to ignore Congress and act unilaterally. One minor obstacle stood in the way, and that was Article I, Section 7, of the United States Constitution.
For the previous 220 years – “400 years,” according to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee – that article informed Congress in some detail on how to turn an idea into a law.
Obama could not enforce the DREAM Act, said Georgetown law professor Nicholas Rosenkrantz, “by pretending that it passed when it did not.” As late as March 2011, legal scholar Obama seemed to agree.
“America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the president, am obligated to enforce the law,” he told a Univision audience. “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.”
By June 2012, what Obama said in March 2011 seemed as stale as a morning-after bowl of tortilla chips. The president had lost his taste for all that legislative analysis and argument given that the result was “an absence of any immigration action from Congress.”
Five months before the presidential election he knew the media would give him a pass, and he hoped that Latinos would give him their vote.
So he decided to dispense with debate and fix immigration policy by his own lights, confident he could make that policy “more fair, more efficient and more just.”
This fix started with a presidentially guaranteed relief from deportation for the so-called “Dreamers.” On top of that came the right to apply for work authorization, both guarantees in full defiance of existing federal law.
“There has long been a general consensus that a president cannot refuse to enforce a law that is considered constitutionally sound,” said constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley. That chapter was apparently missing from Obama’s law books.
The speech that introduced this change of immigration policy was littered with enough lies and half-truths to stir Rep. Joe “You lie” Wilson from the grave, let alone his seat.
It was not “immunity,” not a “path to citizenship,” only “temporary,” said Obama, who surely planned to turn a million or so of these undocumented Democrats into grateful voters as soon as he could get away with it.
When the time came, he would urge them to think the way he encouraged all Latinos to think on Election Day: “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.”
Punish our enemies? Truth be told, Trump has not just been more honest than Obama. He’s been less divisive.