Trump Should Put Away His Pen and Phone

Donald Trump

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo


All of a sudden, we’re all originalists and believers in the sagacity and inviolate handiwork of long-ago white males.

President Donald Trump’s trial balloon about changing birthright citizenship via executive order has brought a hail of denunciations. He wants, the critics say, to change the Constitution under his own power, in the service of the allegedly racist goal of excluding the children of undocumented immigrants from U.S. citizenship.

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Contrary to the chest-beating, there’s a serious case that the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to anyone born here who is “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, is ambiguous on whether the provision applies to undocumented immigrants. And, as a policy, nearly unlimited birthright citizenship has obvious downsides. But the executive order the president is contemplating is a bad idea and should go in whatever circular filing cabinet is reserved for misbegotten inspirations that he’s eventually talked out of.

The argument about the 14th Amendment is whether it, with the exception of diplomats and foreign armies, is meant to give citizenship to the children of anyone here, or whether it requires some deeper allegiance to the United States. The case for the latter, more limited interpretation has some formidable advocates, but the expansive view has more supporters and also long-standing practice on its side.

It’d certainly be instructive to have the Supreme Court weigh in, since the question of illegal immigrants hasn’t been directly addressed by the courts and no one who debated and adopted the 14th Amendment contemplated a large-scale influx of undocumented immigrants, or the rise of birth tourism.

Undocumented immigrants, of course, come here in open defiance of our laws and stay by continually violating our laws. They are subject to our jurisdiction, but do everything they can to evade it, and aren’t fully subject to it—it wouldn’t make any sense, for instance, to try an undocumented immigrant for treason. As a policy matter, it is perverse that undocumented immigrants win one of the world’s great lotteries through their lawbreaking, by getting citizenship for their children. This makes it more difficult for us to enforce our laws, both because it serves as a magnet to come to the United States and an impediment to removing undocumented immigrants once they are here.

So it’s understandable that Trump opposes the status quo, and is frustrated by it. But that doesn’t mean he should issue an executive order.

Despite the cottage industry of analysis of him as a budding Hitler, Trump has so far avoided the unilateral excesses of President Barack Obama. Given the relative lack of major congressional legislation, the focus has been almost entirely on the executive: on his words, his tariffs, his foreign policy, and yes, his executive orders and regulations. By and large, though, those have been devoted to reversing Obama’s executive orders and regulations. It’s been a tit-for-tat unilateralism (the most famous exception was the travel ban, which was obviously within the president’s authority and ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court).

This would be different. Even if the interpretation that the 14th Amendment doesn’t mandate birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants is correct, there’s another obstacle in Trump’s way. Congress has legislated in this area and codified the language of the 14th Amendment. It hasn’t acted to change the interpretation of birthright citizenship, even though it had ample opportunity to do so across the decades. (An effort spearheaded by Harry Reid in the 1990s never went anywhere.)

So if Trump wants to test the limits of birthright citizenship, he really needs Congress to move, which it won’t. Even if it were in Trump’s power to make this change on his own, it would be poor practice to make such a sweeping revision in a policy that is taken by many to be core to the nation’s identity without the buy-in of the legislative branch.

Desperation to change the rules on immigration even though Congress wouldn’t act is what made Obama rewrite the immigration laws on his own. Trump should resist the same temptation.

Regardless, if the president goes down this route, he will likely get swamped in the courts. There would be an immediate injunction. A case might not even make it to the Supreme Court, and the courts wouldn’t even have to speak to the underlying issue of birthright citizenship—they could just rule that the executive order exceeds the president’s authority.

Even such a limited decision would be widely interpreted as an affirmation of the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment, setting back the cause of changing birthright citizenship, rather than advancing it.

The best way to combat illegal immigration is an E-Verify system that requires employers to ascertain whether their employees are legal. It doesn’t have the emotive power of Trump’s other emphases on immigration—the wall, tent cities and troops at the border, and now this—but it is more achievable and would be more effective.

Meanwhile, he should put his pen and phone away.

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review and a contributing editor with Politico Magazine.

Florida Democrats call on Sanders to turn out college voters ahead of Trump rally

Bernie Sanders.

“The reason Trump will be here is he is nervous because his candidate might lose,” Bernie Sanders said during the UCF rally. “And your job is to make Mr. Trump very, very nervous.” | Alex Edelman/Getty Images

TALLAHASSEE — As the 2018 election cycle morphs into a voter turnout game, Florida Democrats on Wednesday enlisted Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to help excite college students — a key demographic that‘s been notoriously difficult to drive to the polls in past midterms.

The Vermont senator held rallies at the University of South Florida in Tampa and University of Central Florida in Orlando with an impassioned get-out-the-vote message that relied on equal parts red-meat liberal policy issues and rhetoric aimed at President Donald Trump, who was set to hold his own rally Wednesday night in Fort Myers.

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“The reason Trump will be here is he is nervous because his candidate might lose,” Sanders said during the UCF rally. “And your job is to make Mr. Trump very, very nervous.”

Democrats are breaking out their party‘s biggest names in the final weeks of the election. They’ve already called in Joe Biden, who held rallies in key cities across the state last week, and Hillary Clinton, who attended several fundraisers. Barack Obama is scheduled to make an appearance Friday in Miami.

The stops Sanders made on Wednesday were intended to boost support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who is running neck-and-neck with Republican Ron DeSantis, a close political ally of the president. Sanders, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, made no mention of Sen. Bill Nelson, the three-term Democrat who‘s in a brutal re-election fight against Gov. Rick Scott.

Trump played the role of heel at the rallies, but there was also a large focus on the type of policy issues that can fire up the liberal voters found in large numbers on college campuses. Florida Democrats are intensely focused on wooing young voters this year after a court decision that’s allowed early voting sites on campuses for the first time in the state’s history.

Sanders hit all the big liberal policy notes, calling health care a “human right,” pushing a $15 minimum wage, blasting the GOP tax cut bill and stressing the need to immediately address climate change.

“Unlike the president of the United States, you know climate change is real and we have to transform our energy system,” Sanders said.

Sanders lost Florida 64-33 percent to Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, but remains popular among younger voters and those on the party’s left flank. When Clinton came to Florida last week, she held just one public event, primarily sticking to closed-door fundraisers in support of Gillum’s campaign.

Not surprisingly, Democrats have far outpaced Republicans in early voting turnout at colleges. At USF, 1,285 Democrats have cast ballots, compared to 299 Republicans and 526 with no major party affiliation. For UCF, 1,708 Democrats cast ballots, compared to 410 Republicans and 614 with no major party affiliation.

Overall, pre-Election Day turnout has been high across the state. More than 3.5 million people have already voted, more than the 3.2 million total votes cast before election day in 2014, the last non-presidential campaign cycle. Republicans held a slight 41.9-40 turnout lead over Democrats.

RGA, DGA double down in final week of Florida governor’s race

Former Rep. Ron DeSantis and Mayor Andrew Gillum

Both sides are in final messaging mode of what has been an intensely negative general election. | John Raoux/AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE — National groups focused on Florida’s hotly contested governor’s race are gearing up for the final week of the 2018 midterms, giving a last-minute flood of campaign cash and boosting TV and digital campaigns.

The Republican Governors Association this week gave another $1 million to GOP candidate Ron DeSantis‘ political committee, bringing its election cycle total to $3 million. The group also poured another $300,000 into cable TV ads in the Democrat-heavy Palm Beach media market and aimed $1 million towards a digital ad campaign focused on swing voters. It’s the biggest infusion of cash the RGA is doing in any state over the final two weeks of the 2018 midterms.

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On the other side, Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum got another $500,000 infusion of cash Wednesday from the Democratic Governors Association, which has put $8.5 million into the race and is Gillum’s biggest direct donor. That’s on top of $1 million it is has given to the Florida Democratic Party to boost its research and minority voter turnout efforts.

Both sides are in final messaging mode of what has been an intensely negative general election.

“The Florida governor’s race is extremely close, but we see clear evidence that Ron DeSantis is surging and in a strong position for victory,” said RGA spokesman Jon Thompson. “We are making key investment in these final days to ensure Florida continues on the right track with a governor in office who will fight for jobs and low taxes.”

David Turner, a DGA spokesman, struck the positive tone Gillum has tried to keep, noting his “inspirational campaign,” before hitting DeSantis and the RGA.

“This lies in stark contrast to the RGA spending the majority of its money through outside entities, an indication they don’t have a lot of faith in Ron DeSantis to make smart decisions,” Turner added.

Both the RGA and DGA have a long history in governor’s races in Florida. As the nation’s largest swing state, both parties see it as strategically important to have a large footprint in Florida headed into presidential election cycles, a dynamic that always attracts national attention.

In 2014, the RGA pumped $18 million into Gov. Rick Scott’s successful re-election bid, while the DGA gave $6 million directly to Democratic nominee Charlie Crist.

Trump’s attack on Ryan seen as advance scapegoating

President TrumpDonald John TrumpActivists call on DC officials to rename street in front of Saudi embassy after Khashoggi Five takeaways from the final Indiana Senate debate Avenatti says FBI told him he was targeted by alleged mail bomber MORE’s stunning attack on Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump plans executive order to end birthright citizenship Conway’s husband pens op-ed calling Trump’s birthright proposal ‘unconstitutional’ Trump visits Pittsburgh synagogue MORE (R-Wis.) on Wednesday is being interpreted by many on Capitol Hill as an attempt to deflect blame and throw the retiring Speaker under the bus should the GOP lose its House majority next week.

The commander-in-chief took to Twitter, just six days before the midterm elections, to publicly slam Ryan for rejecting his calls to end birthright citizenship via executive order.  

“Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about! Our new Republican Majority will work on this, Closing the Immigration Loopholes and Securing our Border!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.


Trump has long been frustrated that he hasn’t been able to implement his top immigration priorities, including securing full funding for his proposed border wall, under the GOP-led Congress.

Now, as the House majority appears to be slipping away from Republicans, Trump is suddenly lashing out at the Speaker.

A combination of late district polls, fundraising numbers, Trump’s falling approval rating and historical trends have all leaned in the Democrats’ favor, leading to a growing sense among the party’s top brass in recent days that the House is theirs for the taking next week.

Trump’s political team has pointed to the high number of GOP retirements and poor fundraising totals among sleepy incumbents as the main source of the party’s troubles in the House. In the third quarter, 110 Democratic challengers outraised their Republican opponents.

But on Capitol Hill, Republicans say Trump’s lack of discipline and penchant for controversy has put them at a disadvantage. They pointed to Wednesday’s tweet as a prime example.

GOP strategists said it was incredibly unhelpful to attack Ryan, which is further inflaming Republican tensions and knocking the party off message in the final stretch before the critical midterm elections.

They also maintain it will be impossible for the president to escape blame, given that he has urged his supporters to envision him on the ballot this fall.

“Attacking Paul Ryan, who has busted his butt for the House Republican team, on the eve of this midterm is gobsmackingly counterproductive and wrong-headed, particularly since the President has been 100 percent clear that this election is a referendum on his leadership and his administration,” political strategist Michael Steel, who served as former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMore veterans in Congress will mean more representation for our vets Houston Chronicle endorses Beto O’Rourke in Texas Senate race The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall MORE’s (R-Ohio) spokesman, told The Hill.

Trump’s broadside was also interpreted as a sign that he and the White House have given up on saving the House.

Trump is barnstorming the country in the final week before the election, but his schedule suggests a focus on the upper chamber, with stops in the Senate battleground states of Florida, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee and Indiana.

Ryan, meanwhile, is on the campaign trail stumping for 25 of the most vulnerable House Republicans in 12 states.

The Speaker’s allies scoffed at the notion that Ryan isn’t working to preserve the GOP’s majority, pointing to his mega fundraising totals, which include over $70 million directly for candidates and the House GOP campaign arm.

In fact, Ryan’s pushback against Trump’s birthright citizenship plan came during a radio interview in Kentucky, where he was stumping for endangered Rep. Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrThe Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — One week to the midterms: Election handicappers weigh in Major GOP group leans into immigration, tax law in final week Trump creates national monument in Kentucky MORE, whose race is listed as a “toss-up” by Cook Political Report.

“When looking at who is working day-in and day-out to help Republicans keep the majority in the House, just look at where the Speaker and the President are traveling,” said one GOP operative. “The Speaker is focused on bolstering GOP incumbents in the most competitive races across the country, while the president is so unpopular that he’d hurt these candidates if he came to their districts.”

Trump later on Wednesday said he has no intentions of blaming anyone should the GOP lose the House — including Ryan.

“No, I’m not going to blame anybody,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn Wednesday afternoon.

But during an interview with the Associated Press earlier this month, the president insisted he would not bear responsibility if Republicans lose the House majority.

“No, I think I’m helping people,” Trump said. “I don’t believe anybody’s ever had this kind of an impact.”

And the Wednesday tweet slamming Ryan comes after Politico reported that Trump was privately preparing to hold both Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFive takeaways from the final Indiana Senate debate Trump visits Pittsburgh synagogue McConnell backs death penalty in Pittsburgh, Louisville shootings MORE (R-Ky.) accountable for the outcomes of the midterms.

“These are their elections… if they screw it up, it’s not my fault,” Trump reportedly said, according to a source cited by Politico.

Longstanding tensions between the Trump and Ryan have been evident since before Trump took office despite Ryan largely standing by the president since he took office.

Their turbulent relationship — which began ahead of the 2016 election when Ryan condemned some of Trump’s more inflammatory remarks and proposals and Trump in turn attacked him on social media — in conjunction with Ryan’s exiting Congress after two decades make the retiring Speaker an easy scapegoat for the president.

-Scott Wong and Jordan Fabian contributed

Business lobby dials back primary spending with GOP conservative wing set to expand

Donald Trump

Business groups and other establishment Republicans have watched their party’s trajectory shift under President Donald Trump, particularly on trade and immigration. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images


The Chamber of Commerce says it identified fewer primaries that pitted moderates against less business-friendly conservatives.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, long an aggressive defender of establishment Republicans, has given conservative insurgents cause for glee after it cut back primary spending this election cycle.

The Club for Growth, a small-government group often at odds with the nation’s biggest business lobby, predicts that November’s midterms will add as many as 15 Republican lawmakers to the 30-member Freedom Caucus, the uncompromising conservative bloc that doesn’t hesitate to buck congressional GOP leaders.

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Rather than fighting them off, the Chamber slashed its primary-season expenditures this cycle, spending just $3.6 million on political communications for its preferred candidates, compared to $11 million and $14 million in 2014 and 2016 respectively, according to federal election data.

Business groups and other establishment Republicans have watched their party’s trajectory shift under President Donald Trump, particularly on trade and immigration. This cycle, some candidates seeking to embrace Trump’s outsider status have even shunned support from the party’s corporate wing.

But Chamber senior political strategist Scott Reed said his group identified fewer primaries in 2018 that pitted moderates against less business-friendly conservatives, and the group felt its cash was not as critical in those races. It instead shifted spending to support vulnerable Republican incumbents, he said.

“It’s not a normal year,” Reed said in an interview. “There weren’t a lot of primaries where there was a real, fundamental difference between the candidates, so we took a different approach.”

He cited Indiana’s Senate contest, where all three GOP primary candidates won high marks from the business group. After consulting with local affiliates on the ground, the national group decided not to get involved, Reed said.

The Chamber also has spent money on election-year efforts such as get-out-the-vote work with local branches and digital issue ads, activity that isn’t publicly disclosed, Reed said.

David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth — whose chosen candidates faced off with Chamber-backed hopefuls in prior years — said he sees the congressional Republican caucus growing more conservative next year after his group spent money on behalf of candidates running in open primaries to replace retiring House lawmakers.

The conservative group has tailored its endorsement process to avoid supporting candidates who stand little chance of winning a general election, McIntosh said, a decision he said has helped the group gain standing within the GOP establishment.

“Aggressively at the beginning of the cycle, we went out and looked for candidates who would be strong on our economic issues, very good, limited-government conservatives,” McIntosh said.

Reed said the Chamber saw no need to duel with the Club for Growth in such races.

“We are not the policeman of the world or an arm of the Republican National Committee,” Reed said. “If the Club for Dopes want to get involved in all these races that are layups, that’s fine.”

There were some signs this year, however, that the Chamber’s money might not be welcome everywhere. In one conservative district, candidates publicly distanced themselves from the Chamber en masse: In the crowded, 13-candidate South Carolina primary to replace departing Rep. Trey Gowdy, all of the Republican candidates said during a Tea Party forum in April that they would reject Chamber money and support if it were offered to them.

“They usually spend money against me,” former South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright said.

Ted Pitts, CEO and president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, said candidates in the Gowdy race who disavowed the business lobby were “speaking more to the fact that they wanted to be an outsider — because Trump played the outsider role.” He said he doubted many of them would have turned down the Chamber’s help if offered it.

“When some of those candidates got down to the end, they were interested in seeing if the U.S. Chamber felt like they needed to look again at that race,” Pitts said.

And some candidates who lost primaries this year in which their opponents received Club for Growth backing said they could have used the Chamber’s help.

Former CIA officer William Negley, who had support from the local business community in an 18-way GOP primary in Texas, said he faced a barrage of attack ads from the Club for Growth, which supported conservative Chip Roy. The Chamber sat out that battle. Negley missed making the runoff by about 1,000 votes.

“Organizations like the Chamber and like-minded people need to organize and get their act together so that others aren’t just walking away with it,” Negley said in an interview. “To give [the Club for Growth] full credit, there’s no doubt that those ads were effective in driving me down.”