Usually few people can recall specific policy proposals made during a State of the Union and fewer can remember a specific line. But that may not be the case with President Trump’s address to Congress last night which included a huge ad lib that left many scratching their heads.
Having just launched into his comments on immigration, President Trump offered praise for legal immigrants who “enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways.”
If you were reading along with the prepared remarks, the president should have then said, “I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally.”
But the president did not. Instead, he went off the cuff saying he wants “people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”
The reactions from both sides shared a similar stunned disbelief.
“I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever” — like I’ve always said, the guy is not a restrictionist,” tweeted Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
NumbersUSA, which like CIS supports limiting legal immigration, reacted with guarded hope, asking, “Did he misspeak? Let’s hope so,”
Jonathan Swan, a reporter for Axios, heard it differently arguing that the ad lib “means nothing” since Trump “just likes the sound of hyperbole.”
CNN’s political analyst Jon Avlon ran through a list of actions the administration has taken to curb legal immigration before advising viewers: “don’t believe the hype.”
Alex Nowrastah, a senior immigration analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute, also took the president’s statement with a grain of salt suggesting that if he truly means it then “repudiate the RAISE Act and his campaign promise to cut legal immigration.”
Even ABC News’ fact check rated the statement “False” based on Trump lowering the cap on refugee admissions to historic lows and other executive actions.
So, is it much ado about an ad lib?
Reihan Salam, who contributes to The Atlantic and the National Review, acknowledged it might be hyperbole, but wrote that it also could be “a sign of things to come.”
He theorized that Trump may be trying change the direction and tone of the immigration conversation by muting his approach to legal immigration, while trying to hold onto his base with a firm stand on border security issues and the wall.
Less than 24 hours later, when asked directly about the ad lib, Trump confidently confirmed to reporters that the ad lib was mistake but an actual change in policy.
“Yes,” he said, “because 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.”
The abandonment of his campaign pledge and commitment to protect American workers is more disturbing considering other signs of a weakening on other issues, particularly concerning guest workers.
The administration also has, at least rhetorically, opened the door to expansions of the guest worker programs in certain industries.
Last April, President Trump promised farmworkers in Michigan that he favored letting guest workers in “because we need them.” He doubled down on that pledge in a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention last month.
If Trump remains committed to pursuing bad public policy, he will be reversing past positions taken and promises made, both as a candidate and as president. Coming to the United States legally matters, but so does the number of people coming to the United States. Mass immigration, legal or illegal, undermines the jobs and livelihoods of many Americans, overburdens vital social institutions and the social safety net.
In advocating for allowing “people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever,” the president seems to be ignoring the impact of mass immigration on American society and that those considerations are precisely the reasons why immigration laws exist and limits are set