Immigration Issues and the Election #15: Reasons for Hope with President-Elect Trump and the GOP Congress

Alexander J. Segal's picture

In this post, I will explain why I am optimistic about the 2016 election results, which swept Donald J. Trump into the Presidency of the United States and saw the Republicans maintain majorities in the U.S. Congress. To read my thoughts on how the election played out and some of the key races that I was watching, please see my companion post to this piece [see blog].

My Thoughts on the Result

My blog posts here at reflect my myriad concerns with President-Elect Trump on a variety of issues, both personal and political. I described the election between the President-Elect and Clinton as a “porta-potty fire” [see blog]. When I made my final endorsement, I was sure to reference my many concerns with the now President-Elect as a candidate [see blog].

That a person with severe character flaws and policy deficiencies went from a mere candidate to preparing to assume the Presidency of the United States in two months does not make all of my concerns about him disappear. To assuage my concerns, President Trump will have to prove capable as President. While we cannot be sure of what kind of President he will be until he takes office, there are a number of reasons, with my reservations granted, that I am excited about the election result and what we have in store for the next four years.

1. Elections Are Not Contested in a Vacuum. When there were better choices available than the President-Elect, I supported them. However, once Trump became the Republican nominee, I concluded quickly that the best option was to support his candidacy. President Barack Obama has, for eight years, weakened the United States abroad, exceeded his authority at home, and pursued disastrous policies on both fronts. With regard to immigration specifically, President Obama unilaterally enacted substantial deferred action programs without putting them through the proper administrative procedures or grounding them in his statutory authority [see blog]. Hillary Clinton ran promising not only to continue President Obama's disastrous policies, but expand upon them. I am relieved that she will not have an opportunity to do so. To say that President-Elect Trump isn't perfect is an understatement, but to say that he is far more likely than not to surpass the low bar set by the previous administration and promised by Clinton is grounded in reasonable analysis.
2. The Supreme Court. Had Clinton been elected, she would have likely had her choice for the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia
[see blog]. Fortunately, the Senate Republicans held their ground since the death of Justice Scalia and insisted that the next President, rather than President Obama, should be the one to pick his replacement. The gamble paid off to the extent that the Republicans held the Senate and won the Presidency. President-Elect Trump has promised to pick the next Supreme Court Justice from a list of very qualified conservative Judges. This pledge helped reassure me and many other skeptical conservatives to vote for him, and he owes it to the country to uphold his pledge. A conservative Justice to replace Justice Scalia will ensure that recent important decisions on political free speech, gun rights, and administrative procedure will be upheld. Furthermore, a President Trump will have the opportunity to fill federal courts across the country with qualified conservative judges, provided he surrounds himself with a team of good advisors for his judicial picks.
3. Access to Better Advisors. President-Elect Trump has not backed away from many of his disconcerting positions. He continues rail against free trade and seems to view foreign affairs as something to the effect of a protection racket. However, President-Elect Trump will now have access to the “best people,” as he likes to say, that the American right has to offer. It will be important to see if the President-Elect begins to surround himself with a better team of advisors during his transition, and whether we begin to see a shift in his discussion of these important issues that shows a greater depth of understanding than he has demonstrated thus far. Again, however, it must be noted that he has a very low bar to clear. While there are many reasonable concerns regarding Trump and Russia, for example, Eastern Europe has already been abandoned under President Obama. Israel has been treated with scorn by the Obama Administration, and may now look forward to more cordial relations, and less hectoring, under a Trump Administration. President Obama made one of the worst foreign policy blunders in recent memory in entering into the disastrous Iran Nuclear Deal, and President Trump has promised to chart a new course to attempt to undo the damage of the previous eight years.
4. The Republican Congress. While President-Elect Trump is not ideologically conservative, he has run as a Republican and generally shifted to the right from his long stint as a liberal Democrat. While the President-Elect cannot be entirely trusted by conservatives, we can certainly trust the Republican Senate and House. With Republican control of both houses, a President Trump should be less likely to be tempted to pursue a liberal agenda. Furthermore, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence should serve as an effective liaison between the White House and the Congressional Leadership, having once been part of the House leadership team himself. We should expect to see the GOP Congress to work quickly with President Trump to begin the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare and undoing the crippling regulations passed under the Obama Administration. To be sure, the President-Elect also campaigned on certain dubious proposals, like a one-trillion dollar infrastructure spending package. Furthermore, Trump has been entirely resistant to the concept of entitlement reform. While certain concessions will likely need to be made to a President Trump, it will be incumbent on the Republican leadership in Congress to work with Vice President-Elect Pence and the White House to chart a conservative course and temper a President Trump's more liberal inclinations on certain issues.
5. New Respect for the Constitution. It is possible that the prospect of a President Trump will chasten the Democrats. Over the previous eight years, Democrats have been cheerleaders to President Obama's executive overreach in the form of creative interpretations of regulations unmoored in statute, circumventing notice and comment rulemaking entirely, and effectively rewriting statutes when it was convenient for him to do so. This was all in the name of not only advancing a liberal policy agenda, but also in overcoming so-called Republican “obstruction.” We may expect that with the arrival of President Trump, the Democrats will rediscover their appreciation for the Constitution's limitations on the power of the executive, the separation of powers, and Congressional prerogatives. While I want to see a conservative agenda enacted, I would welcome such a shift from the Democrats. Congressional Republicans ought to join the Democrats in serving as a check on a President Trump, and let the Constitution, rather than short-term policy objectives, be their guide. If the prospect of a President Trump gives both parties a newfound respect for the Constitution and the separation of powers that could yield long-term benefits for American Government that would extend well past a Trump Administration. In 1992 and 2008, Democrats were elected to the White House with majorities in both houses of Congress. In 1994 and 2010, the Democrats were annihilated in the Congressional midterm elections. The President-Elect has certainly said things to raise questions regarding his understanding of the workings of the Constitution and restraints on the Presidency. If the Republican Congress serves as both a partner to and as a check on President Trump, the GOP will a long way toward avoiding the fate of the Democrats in the 1994 and 2010 midterm elections.

What Does this Mean for Immigration?

Even subsequent to my announcement of my intention to vote for President-Elect Trump, I continued to express concerns regarding his immigration proposals. While he has shown improvement from the primary [see blog], the President-Elect has yet to show any serious understanding of immigration law and policy. He continues to advocate building a fantastical wall across the entire border with Mexico, a position that we should soon hope to see left behind. He has backed away from his proposals suggesting mass deportations, but it is unclear how he hopes to improve immigration enforcement policies and priorities. He has also backed away from his proposal to ban all Muslim immigration, instead adopting a more conventional position of seeking to restrict immigration in distinct categories from “countries of concern,” but it is not at all clear how he would designate countries of concern or improve vetting to identify individuals who pose a danger to the United States based on ideology. To this effect, a President Trump will likely suspend the Syrian refugee program, which is a position I support due to our inherent inability to properly vet such refugees [see blog].

While President-Elect Trump has suggested that he wants to reorient our immigration system toward attracting more highly skilled immigrants and away from family chain-migration, we have yet to see any proposals or suggestions for what he thinks such changes may look like. President-Elect Trump has pledged to rescind both DACA and DAPA, although it is unclear with regard to the former whether he will endeavor to work with Congress to replace it or offer a transition period to its beneficiaries. In any case, the election of Trump means that the judicial proceedings regarding DAPA and DACA+ will now be rendered moot [see blog].

Despite my concerns, I am hopeful that a President Trump will be better for immigration policy than President Obama has been. For one, Trump was elected in large part based on his promises for improved immigration enforcement. As the chief enforcer of immigration policy, there is much President Trump can do to this effect with the help of Congressional funding. It will be crucial to see who President Trump taps to be the Secretary of Homeland Security, Attorney General, and Secretary of State. President Trump's choices will go a long way toward showing how serious he is about improving our immigration system.

It is unclear whether a President Trump will seriously prioritize immigration reform in addition to seeking to improve enforcement. However, as someone who supports improving enforcement before addressing legalization, I am hopeful that as President, Trump will maintain his similar position on this issue and demand that Congress assist him with funding and legislation to improve enforcement before discussing legalization [see blog]. If a President Trump uses his leverage correctly, he could offer pro-immigration reforms for employment-based nonimmigrants and immigrants and the willingness to accept a legislative replacement for certain aspects of DACA as inducement to the Democrats, who are likely to be wary of a more conservative approach to immigration reform that does not promise immediate legalization.

However, there are many questions outstanding regarding what President-Elect Trump's approach to immigration will be, and where it falls as a priority for the Congressional leadership. For example, it is quite possible that the Congressional Republicans may use funding for new enforcement measures as a way to resolve an impasse with a President Trump on a different issue. It will be important for us to watch what President-Elect Trump says regarding immigration policy in the coming weeks, his selections for advisors and cabinet officers, and any statements from the Congressional leadership of both parties regarding immigration policy.

Final Notes

Throughout the election, I have watched Donald J. Trump first with mortification and second with hope. Some supported him enthusiastically, some like me supported him reluctantly, and others vehemently opposed him. The American people have spoken through the electors, and they have decided that Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. It has been heartening to see President Obama handle the beginning transition with the same graciousness and dignity that was afforded to him by President George W. Bush in 2008, and a testament to our republic that we appear to be headed for another smooth transfer of power. It is important for all of us, supporters and opponents, to follow President Obama's example in welcoming President-Elect Trump to the White House and wishing for his success. It will be incumbent on the soon-to-be President Trump to prove that he is an able President and earn the support of the American people, but the office he was elected to commands respect regardless of the occupant, and the decision of the American people should be recognized and accepted. Regardless of disagreements, we must have no patience for rioters, flag-desecraters, those who smear all of those who voted differently as bigots or traitors, and finally, those who refuse to accept the results of an entirely legitimate and free and fair election.

That being said, respect for the occupant of the Oval Office must be earned, not given. During the campaign, President-Elect Trump often conducted himself boorishly and made a number of incendiary and outrageous statements. His conduct early in the primary was such that I, a self-identified loyal conservative and Republican, was unsure if I would be able to support him were he to become the nominee [see blog].

Now that President-Elect Trump has been entrusted with the most important office in the most powerful country in the world, he must shift from his campaign posture to preparing to undertake the awesome responsibilities of the American Presidency. In his autobiography, our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, wrote the following:

The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.

President-Elect Trump could find Coolidge's wise quote pertinent in two ways.

Firstly, a President Trump must stay away from Twitter and from petty insults directed as opponents. He is no longer responsible for himself and his brand alone, but for a country of over 300 million people. The words of the President have weight that the words of a private citizen do not, and it will be telling to see the extent to which President-Elect Trump understands this.

Secondly, President-Elect Trump has a responsibility to address some of the rhetoric he wielded in the primary. He must reassure people that as President, he will seek only to enforce the laws fairly and impartially as they are written, with his Constitutional responsibilities and the safety and liberty of the American people at heart. Merely intending to do so is not enough. Many individuals were personally frightened and offended by some the President-Elect's more outlandish statements during and prior to his campaign, and, regardless of his actual intent, it cannot be said that this was always without basis in his words. Many of Trump's supporters feared, with ample justification, that a President Clinton would threaten their freedom of speech, freedom of association, religious liberty, and the right to bear arms. It is important to recognize that many of Clinton's supporters fear that a President Trump will enforce the law disparately based on race or religion, and that he devalues people based on these characteristics or based on sex. President-Elect Trump showed graciousness in his victory speech and in his meeting with President Obama. It would be highly encouraging to see the President-Elect take responsibility for many of his more indefensible statements, and work to calm the fears of many Americans who felt alienated by his campaign between now and his inauguration.

Beyond it being the right thing for President-Elect Trump to do, working to address the alienation that his campaign caused for many good Americans will show that he and the Republicans are ready to not only take advantage of the Democrats having alienated large swaths of the electorate over the previous eight years, but also that they intend to not repeat the same mistakes.

I have enjoyed writing this series of blog posts about immigration issues and the election, and I hope that you have found the posts interesting, thought-provoking, and perhaps, on occasion, provocative. With the elections complete, we will have plenty more to blog about regarding immigration, law, and politics in general as we await the inauguration of President-Elect Trump and the new Congress. Please see my opening blog post in the series for a directory of all of the previous posts that I wrote [see blog].

In the spirit of moving on from a contentious election, I will leave you with a second passage from the autobiography of Calvin Coolidge:

It would be exceedingly easy to set the country by the ears and foment hatreds and jealousies, which, by destroying faith and confidence, would help nobody and harm everybody.

Immigration Issues and the Election #15:  Reasons for Hope with President-Elect Trump and the GOP Congress