As the government shutdown heads into its third day, there are two big questions about President Trump's role in the negotiations and underlying issues: Does Trump understand immigration policy, and is he being manipulated and undercut in his negotiations by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and policy adviser Stephen Miller?
On Sunday, Kelly "fielded most of the calls" about the shutdown from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), The New York Times reports, and "the president was urged for a second day to step back from the fray, and for a second day he vented to aides that he wanted to do more to get involved." Friday's shutdown-averting negotiations between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were "derailed" by Kelly and Miller, "whose stance on immigration, coupled with Kelly's position on defense spending, pushed Trump off any compromise," NBC News reports, citing senior administration officials.
Trump's "heart is right on this issue," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Sunday. "I think he's got a good understanding of what will sell, and every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members. As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He's been an outlier for years."
Senator Graham: "As long as Steven Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration we are going no where. He’s been an outlier for years.” pic.twitter.com/6aR42Jeiu7
— Alan He (@alanhe) January 21, 2018
Mark Krikorian, a notable proponent of curtailing immigration, tells the Times he doesn't subscribe to this "Svengali theory" and says Trump's "inclinations are hawkish on immigration." In Congress, Democrats and Republicans are frustrated and confused at a president "either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve," the Times reports. The resulting "paralysis" in Washington has complicated shutdown talks and "raised questions not only about Mr. Trump's grasp of the issue that animated his campaign and energizes his core supporters, but his leadership." Peter Weber