President Trump strode out of the White House this morning for an impromptu appearance on Fox and Friends to jibber-jabber about the news of the day. In addition to a comment about how he’d like for “my people” to treat him with the same fealty that North Koreans treat Kim Jong Un, he touched on the two immigration bills—one strictly conservative option, and a compromise measure negotiated between moderates and conservatives that House Republicans will consider next week.
Host Steve Doocy asked Trump whether he would sign either the conservative “Goodlatte bill” or the other, described by Doocy as “something more moderate.”
“I’m looking at both of them,” Trump said. “I certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one.”
This would be the same bill on which House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had been working “hand-in-glove” with the White House. He told Republican members during a conference on Wednesday that President Trump was “excited” about it. Even White House adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hawk who’s worked to kill more than a few compromise immigration bills over the years, had been on the Hill this week selling it to one of the main conservative caucuses. There is, after all, plenty of grime within this bill to suit Trump’s tastes. It uses both DACA recipients as well as children separated from their parents at the border as a legislative hostages to secure the border wall, higher standards for asylum-seekers, indefinite family detention, elimination of the diversity visa lottery, and cuts to family-based migration.
But a first clue that Trump was not as sold as Ryan made it seem was when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to endorse it during Thursday’s briefing. And House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows warned that he wouldn’t believe the president supported it until he heard it from Trump’s mouth. (Meadows, a strong supporter of the Goodlatte bill, is known to chat frequently with the president, and the president’s comments this morning could reflect a very recent conversation.)
Now the president has opened his mouth, as he’s wont to do, and has said directly he won’t sign it. If true, that kills the bill. But if past debates are any indication, the president will offer a series of contrasting opinions before all is said and done. Maybe he didn’t like how Doocy described the bill as “moderate,” and felt compelled to say in the moment that he wouldn’t support it. Even if Trump changes his mind, though, some members may not believe him. They’ll be hesitant to put their necks on the line for something they have no reason to believe the president will support an hour after the vote.