“We are people of compassion—and we are people of laws,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared Tuesday morning, with a bizarre and inappropriate smirk. Sessions twitched that nervous smirk multiple times as he announced President Trump’s decision to “rescind” President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals 2012 executive order. That was the tell: Trump’s DACA rescission is a sop to his white-nativist base, and it represents the pinnacle of Sessions’s otherwise undistinguished political career. Trump sent out his battered political spouse, the man he repeatedly suggested ought to resign, to take a victory lap on Tuesday, and Sessions couldn’t hide his joy.
But it was also a move that Trump was unwilling to announce himself. Which is odd, given that it was such a big promise to his base during the 2016 campaign. Instead of basking in the glory of a rare moment—Trump hasn’t been able to keep many campaign promises so far, not repealing and replacing Obamacare, not building his wall on the border with Mexico, not tax reform—the cowardly Trump sent out his attorney general. Despite it being his magic moment, Sessions also behaved in a cowardly fashion, fleeing reporters’ questions after his relatively brief announcement, which was studded with legal errors that would shame a better attorney general (or any better person, actually). With apparent reluctance, Sessions wound down his remarks by acknowledging that the federal government will allow time to “conduct an orderly change, to create a time period for Congress to act, if they so choose.”
If they so choose. But they almost certainly will not.
Apparently, Trump thinks it’s a win-win to punt to Congress: He gets credit from his base for ending DACA, while he shifts the blame for ruining the lives of 800,000 by-definition law-abiding Americans to his congressional “allies.” Will it work? Only if the media continue to portray Trump as being “sympathetic to the plight of the young immigrants,” as though he is genuinely sympathetic to anyone but himself, and a few, but not all, of his family members.
Sessions used no dog whistles; he brought his bullhorn, making a series of incorrect and/or dishonest claims in his 10-minute remarks. He repeatedly used the deplorable term “illegal aliens.” He insisted DACA “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens,” the core of white-nativist complaints about any new legal status for undocumented individuals. He insisted DACA was “unconstitutional,” which is widely contested. He said its beneficiaries were “mostly adult”; they may be now, but they had to be brought here before 2007, when they were under 16. He claimed they were a drain on the economy; they bolster it: 95 percent either hold jobs or are in school. DACA, Sessions said, “has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism;” of course recipients can have no criminal record, and if they commit a crime, they have to leave.