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Trump accidentally discovers a truth

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

WASHINGTON -- There is a reason bipartisan government is so hard these days. It's not because "both parties" are intransigent or because "both parties" have moved to the "extremes." It's because what were once widely seen as moderate, commonsense solutions are pushed off the table by a far right that defines compromise as acquiescence to its agenda.

And since I don't get to say it often, I want to thank President Trump for making this abundantly clear during the unexpectedly televised part of his meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday. At one point, he stumbled into a sensible and compassionate approach to the plight of Dreamers -- immigrants brought here illegally by their parents when they were children. They have grown up entirely as Americans.

Temporarily, the "build a wall' president was transformed into a champion of what he called a "bill of love."

Trump's excursion into the politics of charity was prompted when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked if he would support a "clean DACA bill." By this she meant legislation that would maintain President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program without funding a border wall or making any other concessions to immigration hard liners.

Trump, who had set DACA to expire this March, was ready to roll. "Yeah, I would like to do it," he said. And he went farther, expressing a desire for "comprehensive immigration reform" that would legalize the status of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

It fell to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to remind Trump of his actual position, or at the least the position he has espoused most often, by suggesting politely that "you need to be clear, though. ... You have to have security."

The newly gracious Trump was pummeled by parts of his right-wing base for embracing the view of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom he had derided in 2016 for calling on us to love our immigrant brothers and sisters. At 7:16 p.m. on Tuesday, the president retreated on Twitter: "As I made very clear today our country needs the security of the Wall on the Southern Border, which must be part of any DACA approval." Of course, if he had been "very clear," he wouldn't have needed to send that tweet.

Most of Trump's critics played his performance as a sign of his ignorance about the issues before him, and, yes, of his own policy commitments. It was also an object example of his habit in face-to-face meetings of agreeing with nearly everything everyone says.

There's a lot to this, but the larger lesson is more important: Progress in many areas where the parties could work together is being blocked because of the need for Trump and the Republican Party to kowtow to conservative ultras.

In his unguarded moment, Trump simply reflected the belief of the vast majority of Americans that it is ridiculous and cruel to deport the Dreamers.

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