Brighter lamp at golden door?
Donald Trump is not known for speaking precisely or with consistency, especially when he goes off script. Naturally, there was confusion over whether he meant what he said when, discussing legal immigration in his State of the Union speech, he ad-libbed a desire to bring in "the largest numbers ever.”
On Wednesday, Trump said he meant it. And yes, it's a scuttling of past policy.
"We need people in our country because our unemployment numbers are so low, and we have massive numbers of companies coming back into our country," Trump said in a session with regional reporters. "I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in,” the president said.
Details did not immediately follow on what he would change. Trump has previously endorsed policies to reduce overall immigration the U.S. by 50% in 10 years. He has called for a merit-based system, and end to "chain migration" based on family ties and turned up his nose with memorably disgusting words at would-be arrivals from places like Haiti and African countries, preferring those from nations like Norway.
Legal immigration fell in the 2018 fiscal year, according to Politico. Conservative-leaning groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have called for an expansion. Trump's rethinking “is a welcome development, as businesses across many industries have conveyed to us that they are unable to meet their workforce needs,” Jon Baselice, the chamber's director of immigration policy, told USA Today.
But there were cries of betrayal from advocates of sharp cuts in legal immigration who have counted Trump as their champion. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, had thought earlier that "the largest numbers ever" was just the kind of empty superlative that the president inserts practically into every other sentence. Now he warns that Trump's base would bolt.
“The president has said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his base would stay with him, and that’s probably true. But this is one thing that he won’t be able to get away with,” Krikorian told Bloomberg News.
No light at end of tunnel
In the interview with regional reporters, Trump said his administration has “set aside” money for the Gateway Tunnel project but did not commit to when the federal dollars for the new passenger rail connection between New York and New Jersey.
"We have the money set aside but . . . we haven’t decided to use it yet,” Trump told Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. “I'm speaking to the governor [Andrew M. Cuomo]. I'm speaking with various senators, and we'll see what happens."
The project was initially slated to receive $11 billion in federal funding as part of a cost-sharing agreement with the two states made under the Obama administration, but Trump reneged on that deal last year. The president dismissed reports claiming he is withholding funding as leverage to pressure Senate Minority Leader Schumer and congressional Democrats for his $5.7 billion southern-border wall demand.
Said Schumer: "Every day of delay increases the cost of the project and the risk that the [existing] tunnels will fail and cause transit Armageddon that will severely impact LIRR and crush our regional economy."
Trump also said he was "open to talking about" revisiting the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deduction from his 2017 tax plan, but said House Democrats should take the initiative.
Janison: Can't get there from here
Trump inserted a nod to the need for a federal infrastructure program in his State of the Union speech, but when it comes to doing anything, it still looks like a bridge too far.
Details were even sparser in his annual address than in his previous $1.5 trillion proposal. Last time he talked about $200 billion in federal funds, supposedly to spur states, localities and companies to invest the rest in roads, bridges and airports.
But his Republican party mates who ran both houses of Congress for his first two years never made it a priority. In the now-divided Congress, with Trump threatening noncooperation as retaliation for investigations, it's difficult to divine what parts of his agenda could move forward. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.
Pelosi to Trump: Dig we must
A day after Trump called on Democrats to drop “ridiculous partisan investigations,” the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), announced a sweeping probe of Trump’s foreign financial interests, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.
Schiff described for reporters five sweeping lines of inquiry into Trump campaign contacts with Russia. One is to determine whether “Trump, his family or his associates are or were at any time at heightened risk of, or vulnerable to, foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion, or have sought to influence U.S. government policy in service of foreign interests.”
Trump renewed his complaints about the probes, calling it "presidential harassment." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a complaint of her own over Trump's warning from the State of the Union, in which he said, “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”
“That was a threat. The President should not bring threats to the floor of the House,” said Pelosi, vowing the House will "exercise our Constitutional responsibility" for oversight of the executive branch.
A CBS News poll found 76% of Americans who watched the State of the Union approved of Trump's speech, while just 24% disapproved.
The audience was more Republican-leaning than the electorate at large, and it doesn't necessarily mean Trump's broader approval rating is headed for an upswing. The poll's findings for the 2018 State of the Union were almost identical — 75% approval vs. 25% disapproval.
Warren's genes didn't fit
Sen. Elizabeth Warren hasn't hit the campaign trail as an official candidate for president — that's set for Saturday — but another apology tour is underway for the Massachusetts Democrat's wrongful past claims of Native American heritage.
The Washington Post discovered Warren identified her race as "American Indian" in a Texas bar association registration card she filled out in 1986. She acknowledged Wednesday the designation may appear on other documents.
Warren has denied accusations over the years that she misrepresented herself to help her career. On Wednesday, she told reporters the claim "was based on my understanding from my family's stories." She tried to put the issue to rest in October, releasing a DNA test that showed a tiny fraction of Native American ancestry. That angered leaders of the Cherokee Nation, with which she had sought to identify.
Same side of Defense
Under questioning by the House Armed Services Committee, a top civilian Pentagon official said former Defense Secretary James Mattis was right to disagree with Trump's plan to withdraw troops from Syria. The dispute led to Mattis' resignation.
The witness, Assistant Defense Secretary Owen West, serves as the special operations and counterterrorism adviser to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Trump, meanwhile, predicted Wednesday that the Islamic State group will have lost by next week all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria. Critics of the withdrawal plan say it will give ISIS the chance to rebound.
What else is happening:
- Trump, headed next week to El Paso, Texas, claimed in Tuesday's speech that crime dropped dramatically in the border city after a "powerful barrier" was put in place. A fact check by the El Paso Times determined crime was decreasing before the fencing was completed 10 years ago, rose a bit, and then dropped back to pre-fence levels.
- Ex-Trump Fixer Michael Cohen's closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee has been postponed from Friday until Feb 28. Schiff said the change was “in the interests of the investigation." He didn't elaborate.
- A CNN poll found 62% of Democrats want former Vice President Joe Biden to run for president in 2020. Their highest priority for choosing a candidate is having a good chance to beat Trump.
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) plans to announce Sunday whether she will run for president.
- Trump nominated David Malpass, a Treasury official, to lead the World Bank, which lends billions to developing countries.
- Trump's childhood home in Jamaica Estates, Queens, is for sale for a third time since Trump's election, The Wall Street Journal reported. The asking price is $2.9 million.