Trump Defends Family Separation Policy To House GOP
Congressional Republicans moved on Tuesday to defuse an escalating political crisis over immigration, but failed to agree on how to end President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from parents who cross illegally into the United States.
The Senate had one plan, and the House another. Mr. Trump remained defiant, refusing to act on his own.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said that “all of the members of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together,” endorsing quick passage of a narrow bill to provide legal authority to detain parents and children together while the courts consider their status.
In the House, Republicans vowed to press ahead with votes this week on a pair of more sweeping immigration bills drafted by conservatives and moderates, claiming they would address the family separation issue while overhauling the nation’s immigration system. In an hourlong meeting on Capitol Hill with House Republicans, Mr. Trump declined to explicitly back either one, saying he would sign both bills.
“The president was very firm in explaining why it’s so important that he gets this bill to his desk so that we can solve some problems and secure our border,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Republican whip. He added, “We want to secure our border, we want to reunite kids. Our bill does just that.”
In a fiery address to a business group earlier in the day, Mr. Trump falsely blamed Democrats for the separation crisis and demanded a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, a process that would take months. At the same time, he belittled one of the central ideas behind the effort by Senate Republicans to immediately stop separating families on the Mexican border.
Mr. McConnell said he planned to reach out to Democrats to support the effort, hoping to stanch the political damage from the administration’s zero tolerance policy that has led to heartbreaking stories of children separated from their mothers.
But Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, immediately shot down the Republican approach, saying that Mr. Trump could — and should — use his executive authority, not legislation, to quickly end the family separations.
“Anyone who believes this Republican Congress is capable of addressing this issue is kidding themselves,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”
The president has the power on his own to change that “zero tolerance” policy at the border, which would once again allow border agents and prosecutors the discretion to allow families to remain together after crossing the border illegally. But it would allow those families to be released while their court proceedings go forward, something Mr. Trump opposes.
In his afternoon speech, Mr. Trump dismissed as “crazy” several of the Republican proposals by Senate Republicans to expedite processing of immigrant families by hiring hundreds of new immigration judges.
Rejecting a proposal by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to increase personnel in immigration courts with the hiring of up to 375 new judges, Mr. Trump suggested that many of the immigration judges could be corrupt, and he said some lawyers who appear in their courtrooms are “bad people.”
“They said, ‘Sir, we’d like to hire about five or six thousand more judges,’” Mr. Trump said in a long and rambling speech to the National Federation of Independent Business. “Five or six thousand? Now, can you imagine the graft that must take place? You’re all small-business owners, so I know you can’t imagine a thing like that would happen.”
Mr. Trump has for weeks been urging lawmakers to pass broad legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, including hard-line changes that would crack down on asylum seekers, reduce visas and spend $25 billion to build a border wall. Doing so, he said, would have ended the need for a zero-tolerance policy by allowing families to be quickly deported.