By John Wildermuth
In an angry tweet that appeared to contradict his Homeland Security chief, President Trump said Thursday that the federal government will refuse to pay California National Guard troops if they won't keep illegal immigrants from crossing the Mexican border.
By the end of the day, however, Trump had taken no action to pull funding from the California Guard's deployment -- and, in fact, the Guard said the Pentagon was going to pay for its troops.
Trump and his administration have sent a series of clashing messages about California's plans for the past week, ever since Gov. Jerry Brown said he would go along with the president's request to deploy Guard troops -- but not to intercept illegal immigrants crossing the border, as Trump had asked.
Instead, Brown said on April 11, California soldiers would be pointed at such cross-border crimes as human trafficking and gun and drug smuggling. He seemed to belittle Trump's assertion that Guard forces were needed because of a cross-border flow of illegal immigrants, saying, "There is no massive wave of migrants pouring into California."
Trump, surprisingly, promptly tweeted his thanks, saying, "Good move for the safety of our Country!"
Nothing changed with Brown's plan over the weekend, but by Tuesday, Trump had done a 180. He tweeted, "Looks like Jerry Brown and California are not looking for safety and security along their very porous Border."
Then on Wednesday, Brown declared that he was going ahead with his plan for the deployment and that the federal government had agreed to pay for it. He made it clear the 400 Guard troops would not "engage in any direct law enforcement role (or) enforce immigration laws, arrest people for immigration law violations, guard people taken into custody for alleged immigration violations, or support immigration law enforcement activities."
There was no immediate pushback from the administration. Far from it -- Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was welcoming, tweeting Wednesday night: "Just spoke w @JerryBrownGov about deploying the @USNationalGuard in California. Final details are being worked out but we are looking forward to the support. Thank you Gov Brown!"
That seemed to settle that -- until Thursday morning, when Trump returned to Twitter.
"Governor Jerry Brown announced he will deploy 'up to 400 National Guard Troops' to do nothing," the president tweeted. "The crime rate in California is high enough, and the Federal Government will not be paying for Governor Brown's charade. We need border security and action, not words!"
At the Pentagon, reporters asked if Trump's tweet meant that the Defense Department wouldn't pay for the California Guard's deployment. They didn't get much of an answer.
"The Pentagon will continue to support the Department of Homeland Security as they identify their needs and their requirements," said chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.
"We are in a support role," White added. "National Guard troops are ... under the governor's command and control. The Department of Defense will stand ready to support DHS."
Then the California Guard's Twitter feed jumped into action.
"At approx 11:30am PDT today," Guard officials tweeted, "we received written confirmation from the Pentagon that it'll continue to fund the @theCaGuard mission & personnel mobilized to combat transnat'l crime consistent w/the order issued by @JerryBrownGov -- & agreement announced w/the fed gov't -- yesterday.
"In short, nothing has changed today."
But there's always tomorrow, especially with a president as mercurial as Trump, who has shown himself more than willing to overrule his staff and Cabinet.
As president, Trump could simply say he won't accept Brown's conditions. That would allow the governor, as commander of the California National Guard, to refuse to deploy the troops.
If Trump wanted to take stronger action, however, he has the right to federalize the National Guard. That would take Brown out of the picture by putting the troops under direct federal control.
Since 1952, presidents have taken that drastic action only a handful of times, most often during the civil rights era. The only time it has happened in California was in 1992, during the riots that took place after four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King, despite being caught on video attacking the African American motorist.
(c)2018 the San Francisco Chronicle