WASHINGTON — President Trump is hurtling toward a crossroads on immigration — his signature campaign issue and a key source of his law-and-order reputation — where each path before him comes with significant political risks.
Trump has temporarily placed the fates of roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children in the hands of Congress, buying himself time and shunting responsibility.
Should Congress act, the president will have to choose whether to sign on to a legislative solution granting the "dreamers' legal status — or to let the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, expire, which would impede the ability of beneficiaries to find work and leave them vulnerable to deportation.
The choice cuts to the core of his presidency and could have long-term ramifications for the Republican Party.
"From a Republican Party point of view, this is a defining moment," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), co-author of a bipartisan dreamers bill, told reporters Tuesday. As if addressing Trump, Graham added, "You have a chance to show the nation, as the president of all of us, where your heart's at."
Trump's hardline base, which demands purity and expects results, recoils at DACA as illegal amnesty and will look to him to veto any such legislation. But allies said Trump also is eager to prove that he has the "great heart" he has touted, and he is under pressure from his party's establishment, the business community and many of his own advisers to find a way to let dreamers stay.
Trump's 901-word statement on Tuesday explaining his decision zigzagged between those instincts. By the afternoon, when he sat down to a meeting at the White House with congressional leaders, Trump appeared to loosely come down on the side of the dreamers, saying he was confident lawmakers would achieve "the right solution."
Trump in effect decided not to be the one who decides — at least for now.
"I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly," Trump said. "And I can tell you, speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right. And really, we have no choice."
On Tuesday night, Trump tweeted that he wanted to "legalize DACA," another call to action that further muddled where the administration stood and what it would do.
"Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do)," Trump wrote. "If they can't, I will revisit the issue!"
Trump's tone sharply contrasted with the harsher approach taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hours earlier at a news conference where he did not take questions. The difference highlighted the murkiness of the administration's position.
"We cannot admit everyone who would like to come here," Sessions told reporters. "It's just that simple."
Sessions's view was echoed Tuesday throughout the conservative media universe.
Breitbart, the website managed by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, published a story with the headline, "14 Things the Mainstream Media Won't Tell You About DACA."
On one of Trump's favorite television programs, Fox & Friends, radio host and commentator Laura Ingraham, who has been friendly with the president for years, dismissed news coverage of DACA recipients as "sob stories."
"I think there were a lot of folks who listen to my show, who turned out at these rallies for Donald Trump, who really loved his ‘America first" message," Ingraham said. "There are ways to be compassionate to people short of giving them work permits and federal benefits."
The decision to phase it out but allow a six-month delay ... underscores the president's internal paralysis.
Some Trump allies said they understood the president's handling of DACA but did not echo him on every aspect of the issue.
"We have to recognize there are going to be two negative consequences of that action," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt's program. "One, we create a new opportunity for citizenship through chain migration for their parents, the very people who violated the law by bringing them here as children in the first place. And two, we encourage other people around the world to bring their children here illegally."
Trump wrestled with the DACA issue for months and into this past weekend, aides said. The decision to phase it out but allow a six-month delay to give Congress time to act underscores the president's internal paralysis.
Trump in effect decided not to be the one who decides — at least for now.
The president's punt created chaos at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where it now falls to congressional Republicans to navigate a thicket of political interests and charged emotions amid a busy September as they try to keep the party's base from revolting and still appeal to Hispanic voters.
Because of Trump's lack of clarity, leaders of each wing of the GOP and Democrats are jockeying to shape the way DACA is addressed in the coming weeks. Deals are already being floated by figures who see the current vacuum as a useful opening to attach DACA to other priorities that have been lingering on Capitol Hill, such as extending the federal borrowing limit.
The White House has signaled that it would prefer Congress address the dreamers as part of a broader immigration package — one that could help Trump fulfill a major campaign promise by including funding for construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We can't take just a one-piece fix; we've got to do an overall immigration reform," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.
I don't care if they're budding little Al Capones.
Thomas M. Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, said: "It's a great opportunity for this Congress and for Republicans to come together. It's an opportunity for Trump to say, ‘Okay, I'll give you DACA, but I need my wall." This is how deals can happen. Immigration reform was dead for years, and this reopens the conversation."
On the right, there were glimmers of potential for that type of agreement. Commentator Rush Limbaugh, whose syndicated talk-radio show is popular with many of Trump's most fervent supporters, has proposed a similar compromise: Keep the dreamers and build the wall.
"Nobody wants to kick a bunch of kids out of the country, right?" Limbaugh said Tuesday on his program. "I don't care if they're budding little Al Capones. People just don't want to do it ... There needs to be a price, and it would be a great thing, couple this, say, with building the wall. I mean, you do all-in on border enforcement."
The timeline for congressional action is unclear, but top Republicans said addressing DACA could be fodder for legislative negotiations on other fronts.
"I think there may be a deal to be had," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, told reporters when asked about DACA and border security.
Congressional observers said House and Senate leaders, who for years have taken more centrist positions on immigration than Trump, may want to handle the DACA issue sooner rather than later and well ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
"This is one additional, very large agenda item, along with the debt ceiling, Harvey, tax reform, health care and all the spending bills," David Winston, a veteran pollster who works with House Republicans, said. "It makes things so much more complicated, but I think you'll see steps taken pretty quickly to begin this process. There's a general consensus, although not a unanimous consensus."
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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