Editor’s Note: Scott Jennings is a CNN contributor and former special assistant to President George W. Bush. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Shithole. Shithouse. WTF does it matter?
That’s all I can really come up with watching people try to deny or redeem President Trump’s reported comments, made in a bipartisan meeting in the Oval Office regarding a deal on immigration reform. Typically, you call the fire department when you see smoke, not days after your house has burned down.
This cleanup attempt seems like a singularly dumb way to try to move on. Clearly, the President said something like what has been reported. This is a distinction without a difference, and his allies attempting to relitigate it have damaged Trump even further.
The President’s remarks were vile and hurt American interests at home and abroad, especially on the continent of Africa, where they are too important for the president to vocalize such views. We have troops fighting the war on terror in multiple African countries, as the President painfully knows, and we are battling the Chinese government for economic influence there as well (a battle some people think we are losing after years of gains started by President George W. Bush, which President Obama tried to sustain.)
Insulting Africa devalues the time, energy and resources the US government has deployed to save millions of lives and create a continent friendly to American interests. At the same time, President Trump is the only person who can sell the Republican base on whatever compromise comes forth on immigration policy and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The President said these ugly things at the second such bipartisan meeting he held in the White House in the span of a week on immigration reform. The first time around, he had it just right.
“I hope we’re going to come up with an answer for DACA,” the President said at that meeting, calling on the congressional negotiators to pass “a bill of love.”
Of course, the President’s critics point to his crude comments and weekend tweets claiming the Democrats don’t really want a DACA deal as evidence the White House is trying to kill negotiations. Since news of the comments broke, hours of cable news shows have been filled with Democrats (and some Republicans and conservatives) calling the President a racist.
On Sunday night, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona told CNN’s Ana Cabrera that the President is a racist, a xenophobe, and a bigot – a point she echoed in a piece for The Hill. She added that Democrats will have to work around Trump, and expressed hope that Democrats will “succeed in spite of him, not because of him” in negotiating a deal on DACA.
If Cardona’s remarks are representative of her party, does it sound like the Democrats want to negotiate with the President in good faith? You could forgive anyone —the President included — for concluding that the Democrats really don’t want a deal if he had seen that CNN panel discussion.
The Democratic pundit message as of Sunday night was that the President is a racist and we should enact laws without him. Similarly counterproductive are moves like the one by Democratic representatives Jerrold Nadler and Cedric Richmond, who vowed to introduce a bill to censure Trump for his comments.
This argument would be absurd and counterproductive in any legislative negotiation. I’d advise those critics to think about something Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said on Meet the Press this weekend:
“You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody is out there calling the President a racist,” Paul said.
Senator Paul is right. No matter what you think of your negotiating partner, calling someone a racist is just about the best way to stop discussion in its tracks. Whether you think him a racist or not, is grandstanding on applying this term to the President worth killing a deal for the Dreamers?
The truth is just about everyone wants a DACA deal because it is the right thing to do. A CNN poll conducted in December found 83% of Americans want the Dreamers to stay, including 67% of Republicans.
These Dreamers deserve legal certainty after years of existing in limbo because of a legally dubious executive order signed by President Barack Obama. Trump didn’t create this order, but he’s now part of the equation of cleaning it up.
So let us all hope cooler heads prevail this week. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, please stop arguing the ridiculous “shithole versus shithouse” theory. Democratic members of Congress and pundits, dial back the outrage and be more constructive. Your bid to say “racist” as much as you can on television may score political points but is creating a toxic policymaking environment.
President Trump, please keep holding bipartisan meetings to forge a solution. You are on the brink of solving one of the most intractable problems in American politics— immigration reform. A win that includes a solution for the Dreamers, increased border security, and reforms to some of the most broken parts of our immigration system is a legacy item you won’t regret.
And while you’re at it, please check with General Kelly and Secretary Mattis on the geopolitical importance of what we are doing in Africa.
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We need President Trump to be part of the solution, engaged and ready to promote a legislative fix for the Dreamers. People going nuts on TV this week are making that less likely.