WASHINGTON — In his seven months in office, President Trump has proved to be the commander in chief of mixed messages. But even for him, the nighttime tweet on Tuesday was a head-turner.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump had scrapped his predecessor’s program sparing younger illegal immigrants from deportation on the grounds that a president does not have the power to take such action by himself. He then put the onus on Congress by giving it a six-month deadline to “fix” the program before it would expire.
Then, barely eight hours after his decision was announced, the president went on Twitter with a message that completely undercut both positions in just under 140 characters. “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do),” he wrote, using the initials for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals cialisfrance24.com program. “If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”
By vowing to “revisit this issue,” Mr. Trump arguably took Congress off the hook by seeming to suggest that if lawmakers cannot agree, they need not worry about the political or human consequences because he may take unspecified action himself to protect the younger immigrants. But by his own argument earlier in the day, he does not have the power to do that.
White House officials offered no immediate explanation about what the president intended by the message or how he could revisit the issue in six months. Asked during a media appearance with congressional leaders on Wednesday morning if he had any second thoughts on his decision, Mr. Trump said, “No second thoughts.”
But the conflicting messages seemed to reflect what aides describe as the president’s own conflicting emotions about the issue.
While he promised during last year’s election to take a hard line on illegal immigration, since being sworn into office in January, Mr. Trump has repeatedly expressed “love” and sympathy for the “incredible kids” protected by the program, at one point telling them that they could “rest easy” and not worry about being thrown out of the country.
Even during the rollout of his decision to rescind the program on Tuesday, he and his team adopted different tones. The president assigned Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime proponent of tougher enforcement of immigration laws, to announce the move and let his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, field most of the questions about it.
Both Mr. Sessions and Ms. Sanders emphasized the administration’s conclusion that the program was not legal and said that critics of the president’s move ought to have compassion for Americans displaced by illegal immigration. A written statement issued in Mr. Trump’s name likewise called the program an “amnesty-first approach” and while expressing compassion for the beneficiaries, said “we must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans.”
But when a reporter asked Mr. Trump about the decision during a media appearance with congressional leaders on Tuesday about his tax overhaul plans, the president stressed his sympathy for those in the program and his determination to work with Congress to enact legislation that would allow them to stay.
“I have a great heart for the folks we’re talking about — a great love for them,” he said. “And people think in terms of children, but they’re really young adults. I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”
Under the program enacted by President Barack Obama in 2012, in the midst of an election year, immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally before age 16, have lived here for at least five years, were in school, had graduated from high school or were military veterans and had clean criminal records would be shielded from deportation and eligible for renewable two-year permits to work legally. About 800,000 stood to benefit, and were labeled “dreamers” after the name of the “Dream Act” legislation meant to help them.
To create the program, Mr. Obama relied on an expansive interpretation of his executive power because Congress had failed to pass the Dream Act. Critics, including Mr. Sessions, then a senator, and his onetime aide, Stephen Miller, now a policy adviser to Mr. Trump, argued that Mr. Obama did not have the authority to single-handedly rewrite the law. Mr. Trump accepted that argument after a number of state attorneys general threatened to ask a court to invalidate the program.
In phasing out the program over six months, instead of ending it immediately, Mr. Trump effectively challenged Congress to step in and save it by creating a hard deadline. The message Mr. Trump posted on Twitter on Tuesday evening vowing to revisit the matter if Congress did not do so, however, left many involved in the issue scratching their heads.
Republican congressional aides said that it was not helpful because it undercut the incentive for Congress to act while also putting Mr. Trump at odds with many lawmakers from his own party, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who have said the president does not have authority to revisit it.
“He’s taken it upon himself. It’s absurd,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates more limits on immigration. “It’s not surprising that he would do something like this to muddle the message because his own approach to the issue is muddled.”
Mr. Krikorian said the president undercut his own strategy of getting Democrats to come to the table and agree to more immigration enforcement in exchange for congressional authorization to save the program.
“What incentive do the Democrats now have to come to a deal because the president has basically said the deadline is not a real deadline?” Mr. Krikorian asked. “I missed that chapter in ‘The Art of the Deal.’ Maybe he had a ghost writer do it or something. That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t negotiate by starting on day one by negotiating with yourself.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, said he interpreted the Twitter post to mean that Mr. Trump was taken back by the criticism of his decision to scrap the program.
“My take is that he had been convinced by the likes of Sessions and Stephen Miller that his base would love it and the blowback would be muted,” Mr. Sharry said. “When it became clear through the day that just the opposite is true, along with the accusation that he was a coward for sending Sessions out to do his dirty work, he wanted to reassert that he has ‘heart’ and that the decision is his.”
But the problem for Mr. Trump, he added, is that the president has now constrained his own ability to act because his own attorney general has concluded that the president does not have the power to do so. “Can he extend DACA if Congress doesn’t act? Sure,” Mr. Sharry said. “But will Sessions go along with it? No way. If Congress doesn’t act in the next six months, we’ll find out who the decider on this really is.”