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The Senate is creating a path for Trump to act on his fascist rhetoric

Any potential immigration authority Democrats give for Ukraine aid could be used by ‘day one’ dictator Trump.

Eric Garcia
Tuesday 19 December 2023 21:56 GMT
Donald Trump doubles down on anti-immigrant rhetoric after Supreme Court decision

Washington is wringing its hands and declaring that Donald Trump has crossed a line by saying that immigrants were “poisoning the blood” of the United States. This would only be true if people had not been paying attention to Mr Trump for the last eight years, such as when he opened his 2015 campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, criminals and drug dealers. Or when he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims from coming into the United States. Or when he compared immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border to Russian President Vladimir Putin invading Ukraine (after he had tried to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for dirt on Joe Biden in exchange for arms).

The difference between then and now is that Mr Trump has begun to marry his racist and authoritarian rhetoric to more explicitly fascist rhetoric. And by this time next month, he will have overwhelmingly won the first Republican presidential caucus in Iowa and preparing to put up a double-digit victory in New Hampshire. A New York Times/Siena College poll released on Tuesday also showed Mr Trump defeating Mr Biden, meaning that come 20 January 2025, he could have the capacity to turn his words into policy.

None of that should be surprising. What is more surprising is that the Senate is now negotiating how to significantly curtail immigration into the United States in exchange for aid to Ukraine. But Mr Trump’s words add a new colour to the negotiations because it is entirely possible that if an agreement is reached, and he wins the election, Mr Trump could wield that new authority to implement a draconian regime for people who come to the United States.

Negotiations with the bipartisan coterie on Capitol Hill have included, as friend of Inside Washington Myah Ward at Politico has reported, the potential use of “nationwide expedited removal,” which would allow the government to deport anyone in the country who does not have a legal basis for doing so.

While this may register to some as Republican pablum about “the border” — even though this has little to do with the US-Mexico border and may lead to removals from within the country — Mr Trump’s calls to be a dictator on “day one” permeate these discussions. Passing such legislation would give him tremendous latitude.

Unsurprisingly, the most MAGA voices in the Senate are unfazed.

“I’m mad he wasn’t tougher than that because you’re seeing what’s happening at the border? We’re being overrun,” Sen Tommy Tuberville of Alabama told me.

But Sen Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who voted to convict Mr Trump for his actions on January 6 and won re-election last year, refused to speak.

“I'm not going to comment,” she told The Independent. “I'm just avoiding commenting on the former president.”

Sen Susan Collins of Maine, another Republican senator who voted to convict Mr Trump, called his comments “deplorable.”

“That was horrible that those comments are just they have no place, particularly from a former president,” she told The Independent.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune tried to split the difference between distancing himself from Mr Trump while also calling for more restrictions on immigration.

“My grandfather was an immigrant,” he said. “And we're a nation of immigrants. But we're a nation of laws. We have to enforce our borders.”

But perhaps just as befuddling is the fact that Democrats who oppose Mr Trump seem all too willing to work with the GOP on restricting immigration when the leader of their party is spewing white nationalist rhetoric not unlike that of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter in 2018 and the El Paso Walmart shooter in 2019.

During Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s press conference, I asked why Democrats were negotiating curtailing immigration with a party led by Mr Trump.

“What Donald Trump said and did was despicable, but we do have a problem at the border and Democrats know we have to solve that problem, but in keeping with our principles,” he said.

Sen Bob Menendez of New Jersey, an ardent supporter of immigration reform who has criticised the negotiations, was more blunt, telling me Mr Trump was “taking his cues from Hitler.” But Mr Menendez has mostly been neutered in the Senate ever since his indictment, which triggered many Democrats to call for his resignation.

Other Democrats vocally criticised Mr Trump’s words while offering mealy-mouthed responses about giving a president this much authority to deport people.

“Also it just outrageous and he's doing it for political gain,” Sen Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, the first and only Latina senator, told The Independent, noting how Mr Trump’s own family includes immigrants. But when asked about negotiating on immigration, she dodged.

“I think it is important that we have Ukraine funding, Israel funding all of the above, and it needs to happen,” she told me.

Sen Mark Kelly of Arizona, who won a full term in the Senate last year in a closely-watched race, told The Independent Mr Trump’s words were “a racist and xenophobic thing to say.” But when asked about the negotiations, he said the Senate needed to pass an immigration plan that could pass both chambers.

Democrats do not want to talk about the possibility of Mr Trump winning back the White House when Mr Biden is seeking a second term, lest they give the appearance that he could lose. But they cannot avoid the fact Mr Trump’s words dictate the direction of the GOP. And they cannot ignore the fact that even if Mr Trump loses, another Republican may occupy the Oval Office who also does not have scruples about rapidly deporting migrants or reducing legal ways to come to the United States of America.

Mr Trump famously said that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not face consequences. But a potential Ukraine-immigration deal could easily wind up becoming the gun he uses again, and Democrats will have loaded the gun.

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