Usually when the president holds a meeting with key lawmakers of both parties to talk about a major – and majorly contentious – issue, the press comes in at the beginning of the gathering for a few minutes. The president and congressional leaders voice commitments to finding solutions blah, blah, blah, the press gets escorted out and the real work begins behind closed doors.
“Usual” is not how President Donald Trump does things – any things – of course. And so, on Tuesday, with the top Republicans and Democrats in Congress gathered around him to try to break the immigration impasse over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and funding for the border wall, Trump let reporters spend 55 minutes in the room as he (and others) talked – and talked and talked.
It was a remarkable thing – and a reminder that Trump is either unaware of the rules by which Washington traditionally works or he simply doesn’t care. Either way, the 55-minute talk-a-thon – about immigration and, as is typical for Trump, lots of other things – produced a number of remarkable lines from the commander in chief.
Below are the 40 that stood out to me.
1. “We’ve greatly stiffened, as you know.”
And away we go! (Trump is talking about the border and how his policies have cut down on undocumented immigrants entering the country.)
2. “They’re not giving you their best names, they’re giving you people they don’t want.”
This Trump riff is on the so-called visa lottery by which the man who murdered eight people by mowing them down with a car on the West Side Highway in New York City entered the country. Trump is right that the New York City terrorist did enter the country under the Diversity Immigration Visa Program. But he’s wrong about everything else in his characterization of the program. “We find no basis for his warning that countries are gaming the lottery system and sending ‘the real worst’ of their citizens to the US,” Factcheck.org wrote in December 2017.
3. “I’m appealing to everyone in the room to put the country before party, and to sit down and negotiate and to compromise, and let’s see if we can get something done.”
A good line here by Trump, and one that most Americans will respond well to. One caveat: Just before making this call for bipartisanship, he emphasized how there needs to be a wall built along the country’s southern border. That’s not something Democrats agree with.
4. “So maybe the press can stay for a little while and a couple of folks can make statements.”
Little did we know…
5. “It could be a good way of starting, … I think, starting in the House. Starting in the House.”
Trump still doesn’t get that the president tends not to make the calls on where a piece of legislation starts. Members of Congress guard their ability to dictate their own schedules and strategies very closely and hate when the chief executive tries to dictate terms to them. (This is true not just with Trump, but with all presidents in the modern era.)
6. “At a certain point maybe I’ll just lock the doors and I won’t let anybody out until they come and agree.”
Laugh if you want – and Trump was joking – but this isn’t a terrible idea.
7. “There are so many points of agreement, and lot of it’s common sense.”
This is the version of Trump many Republicans – especially in Congress – were hoping they elected. A businessman driven by common sense and the bottom line. Someone not beholden to the entrenched partisan ways of the past and, therefore, able to reach out in good faith to solve previously unsolvable problems. The Trump they got – at least for the vast majority of his first year in office – isn’t that.
8. “We had wars, right, Lindsey?”
This comment is directed at South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Judge Advocate General and, apparently, someone who knows his military history. (Graham, it’s worth noting, is Trump’s most regular golf partner – having played with Trump three times.)
9. “Normally you wouldn’t have a president coming to this meeting. Normally, frankly, you’d have Democrats, Republicans, and maybe nothing would get done.”
Trump is heavily invested in the idea that he is doing things no other president has done. Which, sometimes, is true. And sometimes is not true.
10. “I hear so much about earmarks, the old earmark system, how there was a great friendliness when you had earmarks.”
Great friendliness. The best.
11. “Maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a form of earmarks.”
This is remarkable – and totally indicative of the seat-of-the-pants approach Trump takes to all things. This, remember, is a meeting ostensibly about immigration – DACA and the border wall in particular. And also remember that House Republicans did away with earmarks after re-taking the majority in 2010 – largely at the behest of incoming Speaker John Boehner.
Trump’s not wrong that earmarks often greased the skids to get legislation passed. (I’ve noted that one of the main reasons congressional leaders have such a hard time getting legislation passed is because earmarks are gone and they have no carrot – or stick – to incentivize wavering colleagues.) It’s just amazing that he’s bringing it up right at this moment.
12. “This system really lends itself to not getting along.”
100% right. But the system Trump is talking about (lack of earmarks) is only part of a broader political reality – partisan drawing of House districts, outside groups funding ideological extremists – that add to the inability of the two sides to get along. Or, really, for members of the same party – but different ideological leanings – to get along.
13. “You can say what you want about certain presidents and others, where they all talk about they went out to dinner at night and they all got along, and they passed bills.”
Trump seems nostalgic here for a different kind of politics. It is absolutely true there used to be more cross-party socializing and hobnobbing than there is now. And that Trump, who has turned hobnobbing into an art form, might have prospered more in that prior political world.
14. “Because our system right now, the way it’s set up, will never bring people together.”
He’s not wrong.
15. “I think you should look at a form of earmarks. I see Lindsey nodding very hard ‘yes.’”
Good ole Lindsey!
Reminder: Graham, who ran against Trump in the 2016 primary, once said this of the real estate magnate: “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.”
16. “I’m not talking about Trump.”
No one goes third person like Trump. Not even Chris Cillizza.
17. “I remember when I used to go out in Washington and I’d see Democrats having dinner with Republicans and they were best friends and everybody got along.”
OK, this may be stretching things a little. Maybe more than a little.
18. “We’re going to get DACA done. I hope we’re going to get DACA done.”
I am going to take that as a definite maybe.
19. “But maybe you should start bringing back a concept of earmarks, it’s going to bring you together.”
Did I mention earmarks? Cause that could be interesting. Solution to all of our problems. Or maybe not.
20. “The country is doing well in so many ways. But there’s such divisiveness.”
What’s amazing here is that Trump seems entirely unaware of the role he has played in the country’s divisiveness. That’s not to say we weren’t divided before 2016 – we were – but it is to say that Trump exacerbated those divisions for political gain, and continues to do so.
21. “If we do this properly, DACA, you’re not so far away from comprehensive immigration reform and if you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat, I don’t care.”
Hmmmmmm. To be clear: There is no DACA deal yet. But Trump is already promising that when comprehensive immigration reform passes, he will take the political heat. There’s some bigly cart-before-the-horse-ism going on here.
22. “My whole life has been heat. I like heat, in a certain way.”
This is the best quote. On a related note: I’ve always been more of a cold guy.
23. “You are somewhat more traditional politicians (than me).”
Leader in the clubhouse for understatement of the year.
24. “If you want to study earmarks to bring us all together so we all get together and do something, I think you should study it.”
Earmarks, ever heard of it? Government of the future.
25. “If you want to take it a step further…”
“Can you take me higher?” – Creed
26. “I’m signing it. I mean, I will be signing it.”
To be clear: He’s signing it. Doesn’t matter what “it” is.
27. “We’re going to come up with DACA.”
Um, Republicans haven’t signed off on that – especially with no concessions on border security or wall-building.
28. “We’ll do DACA and we can certainly start comprehensive immigration reform. The following afternoon, OK?”
This seems easy enough! What’s that you say? “Do DACA” isn’t a foolproof way to solve this impasse?
29. “I don’t think it’s going to be that complicated.”
Comprehensive immigration reform? Easy peasy!
30. “That’s why we make it a phase two. We do a phase one, which is DACA and security, and we do phase two, which is comprehensive immigration.”
Look. We can’t call it “phase one” because we already have a “phase one.” Calling it “phase two” is our next best option.
31. “One of the good things, because of our rhetoric or because of the, you know, my perceived attitude, fewer people are trying to come through.”
It’s the rhetoric that’s stopping people from coming into the US? Also, what does Trump mean by “perceived attitude”? Isn’t it just his attitude?
32. “Why play defense on the one-yard line?”
To stop them from scoring a touchdown? I’m spitballing here… (This quote comes from Rep. Henry Cuellar, which I’ve made an exception and included because it’s so good).
33. “I’d love not to build the wall. But you need the wall.”
I’m not sure Trump would “love” not to build the wall.
34. ” You know, you speak to the agents, and I spoke to all of them. I lived with them.”
Um, no he didn’t. Live with them, I mean.
35. “And then we can go to comprehensive later on”
Never go comprehensive early on. Gets you bloated.
36. “I like to go under-budget, ahead of schedule.”
37. “I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with.”
This is the most revealing thing Trump said in the entire 55 minutes. He doesn’t have any hard-and-fast views on immigration. Not really. He wants the wall because he promised the base he would get the wall. But, really, he just wants a deal.
38.”If they come to me with things I’m not in love with, I’m going to do it.”
To quote Donald Trump: “I’m signing it. I mean, I will be signing it.”
39. “Oprah would be a lot of fun.”
Only Trump would say this about a potential 2020 opponent. He knows, of course, that a race between him and Oprah Winfrey would be the most high-profile campaign in American history. And, yes, he would love that.
40. “I hope we’ve given you enough material. That should cover you for about two weeks.”
Oh, you did.