The Truth in Donald Trump's Tweets
(Bloomberg View) -- Why do people say that President Donald Trump doesn't tell the truth? Let's see one tweet from the weekend:
To start: Trump butchered the U.S. political system, since the "three branches of government" are the presidency, Congress and the courts. He presumably means president, House and Senate. Of course, all presidents (and everybody else, for that matter) botch things every once in a while, so most people would give him a pass on that one, although the brutal truth is that Trump rarely demonstrates any sort of real knowledge of the basic facts of U.S. government.
Somewhat more serious is the years he gives. Of course George W. Bush, a Republican, was president in 2008; Barack Obama didn't take office until 2009. And then Republicans gained a House majority in the 112th Congress, which began Jan. 3, 2011. So it's not "2008-2011"; it's 2009 and 2010. Again, all presidents make mistakes of this sort all the time, but a second one in rapid succession is more troubling than each of them is individually. It's also worth speculating that 2008 isn't any random year; that's when the financial crisis hit, so Trump is (deliberately or not) falsely locating a deep recession in Obama's presidency, not Bush's. My guess is that he's just being careless, but there's no way to know.
Next comes the substance, and here Trump is flat-out wrong. Democrats, he says, "decided not to do anything about DACA" when they had unified party government. But while the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program didn't even exist in 2009 and 2010, the policy question about the "Dreamers" certainly did, and Democrats hardly "decided not to do anything" about it. They wrote legislation: the Dream Act. It passed the House but was defeated by filibuster in the Senate, with 36 Republicans and 5 Democrats supporting the filibuster. Perhaps Democrats could have done more to achieve unity on the vote, but they certainly tried.
Moreover, Democrats in the Senate worked with Republicans in 2013 to pass a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, which would have taken care of the problem, but the bill died when the Republican-majority House refused to take up the bill at all.
All of this ignores the most basic sense in which Trump is just telling a lie: DACA exists because Barack Obama established it in 2012, and the issue is urgent now because Trump himself acted against it in September. It's not exactly complicated which party has tried to protect the Dreamers and which party has opposed every attempted fix (in general, although support and opposition don't always break down perfectly by party).
And that remains true right now. Democrats almost unanimously want to restore or strengthen DACA. Since there's also some Republican support, all it would take is clean votes in both chambers of Congress; it would certainly win in the Senate, and probably win in the House. But Republican leadership in neither chamber will allow those votes. And Speaker Paul Ryan explicitly says that he won't allow a vote because the same president who says to "vote Republican" to support the Dreamers would veto a bill to protect them. The real negotiations in Congress are over what Democrats will give up in order to help the Dreamers, something that would make no sense at all if, as Trump falsely claims, "Republicans want to fix DACA far more than the Democrats do."
So there are two important consequences to all of this, outside of how irresponsible it is for the president to get so many facts wrong. One is that it's extremely difficult to negotiate a deal when one of the negotiators won't come clean about his own position. The other is that it totally undermines the president's professional reputation, and therefore his influence, when he can't be trusted to tell the truth.
1. Elaine Kamarck on the irrelevant president. There are basically two arguments about this, which go together: Julia Azari's analysis of Trump as a 19th-century president, and the critique several of us have made that Trump is an unusually weak Neustadtian president. Kamarck thinks Congress is catching on to all of this.
2. Josh Huder on the budget process.
3. Kelly M. McFarland at the Monkey Cage on the Olympics and foreign relations in Asia.
4. Alice Rivlin at Brookings on the budget deal.
5. And here at Bloomberg View, Michael Lewis on Trump.
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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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