Editor's note: The following column originally appeared in The Hill newspaper and on TheHill.com.
“He’s just like he is on TV...He’s an a--hole, but he’s our a--hole.”
That’s how Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., recently described President Trump to a group of young Republicans, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The disparaging assessment of Trump’s character came days before the president gave his approval for ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
President Obama put that policy in place — in the absence of Congressional action on immigration reform — to allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to register with the government and build a life without threat of deportation.
Now Trump has those young people and their families in emotional turmoil. Their fears are climbing as Trump ramps up deportations and falsely demonizes immigrants as stealing jobs and hurting the economy.
Having set off so much fright, Trump then promised that none of the young people would be deported until March. He tweeted: “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!”
Essentially, he pinned the blame on Congress for his decision to go after politically defenseless young people.
If he was sincere, Trump could have asked Congress to act while leaving the Obama rules in place. That would have avoided the current waves of desperation among 800,000 young people trying to do their best in school, on the job and in the military.
But in this test of character, Trump chose to focus only on the political pay-off for himself in fulfilling a campaign pledge he made to appeal to his anti-immigrant political base.
Talk about reducing people to political pawns. This must be the kind of behavior that Hunter had in mind with his insulting description of the president’s character.
But Trump was not done. Once a backlash started — with leaders of the Fortune 500 to Catholic bishops condemning his actions — Trump further displayed his lack of principles by saying he wants to sign a new DACA program into law. So now he believes the young people should be protected?
However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders added the president will only sign a new plan as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
How cynical can Trump get?
As recently as July he dismissed the chances of Congress passing any immigration reform: “Our country and political forces are not ready yet,” he said.
He also knows Congress has failed to pass any signature legislation since he took office. So, what are the odds?
The big problem is that a GOP effort at immigration reform failed in 2006 and a bipartisan effort failed in 2013. In both cases, conservative talk radio attacked reform as “amnesty” for lawbreakers.
Already, Trump’s call for total immigration reform is generating outrage and skepticism from right-wing talkers.
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, once one of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters, lit into the president on Twitter.
“That's great. Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Trump wants COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM! Exactly what he used to denounce,” Coulter tweeted. “Weird how Huckabee Sanders obsessively attacks congress. Trump's not going to get out of betraying voters on the wall by blaming congress.”
While the right remains set against immigration reform, the president is hurting himself with mainstream voters.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll last week found that 58 percent of voters believe DACA kids should be allowed to stay and become eligible for citizenship. Eighteen percent said they should be allowed to stay and become “legal residents.”
According to the poll, support for allowing DACA kids to stay in the country is bipartisan: 84 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans want the young people here.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said as much in denouncing the president’s decision as “a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and goodwill, and a short-sighted vision for the future.”
Writing in the Daily Beast, Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, similarly branded Trump’s DACA decision a “national disgrace” on the order of the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War and the refusal to admit Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.
“America is a noble idea, and on Tuesday, President Trump crushed it,” Sharry wrote.
I know how important that “noble idea” is to a child. I came to the U.S. as a four-year-old immigrant from Panama.
My mother took my sister, brother and me to Brooklyn to get an American education and compete in the American economy. We came to America on a banana boat. That’s no joke: We literally came as added freight on a boat carrying bananas bound for New York.
My sister graduated from Harvard; my brother has a law degree; and I’ve been able to write this column and best-selling books, and succeed in American media.
That’s why my heart aches for these children and their families. Their story is my story.
The DACA decision was announced before Trump accepted the first deal on the debt ceiling offered to him by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Would it surprise anyone if Trump also turns away from Republicans and works with Democrats on a comprehensive immigration deal with amnesty for all undocumented immigrants?
To quote Hunter, “he’s an a--hole.” Though after this week, his most ardent supporters have reason to wonder if he is still their “a--hole.”