House GOP gets little direction from Trump on immigration

June 20, 2018


Lucy Martin and her daughter Branwen Espinal together with other mothers and their babies, attend a House Committee on the Judiciary and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, to express their support and sympathy to immigrants and their families and objection to the forced separation of migrant children from their parents, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump told House Republicans he is "1,000 percent" behind their rival immigration bills, providing little clear direction for party leaders searching for a way to defuse the escalating controversy over family separations at the southern border.

And it's uncertain if Trump's support will be enough to push any legislation through the divided GOP majority.

GOP lawmakers, increasingly fearful of a voter backlash in November, met with Trump for about an hour Tuesday at the Capitol to try to find a solution that both holds to Trump's hard-line immigration policy and ends the practice of taking migrant children from parents charged with entering the country illegally. Many lawmakers say Trump could simply reverse the administration's "zero tolerance" policy and keep families together.

While Trump held firm to his tough immigration stance in an earlier appearance Tuesday, he acknowledged during the closed-door meeting that the coverage of family separations is taking a toll. Trump said his daughter, Ivanka, had told him the situation with the families looks bad, one lawmaker said.

"He said, 'Politically, this is bad,'" said Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas. "It's not about the politics, this is the right thing to do."

But Trump touched on many topics during the meeting, including his historic meeting with the North Korean Kim Jong Un. He praised a few GOP lawmakers by name for defending him on TV, according to one Republican in the room. And he took a jab at Rep. Mark Sanford, congratulating the South Carolina Republican on his recent campaign, according to others granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting. Sanford, a frequent Trump critic, lost after his GOP primary opponent highlighted his criticism of the president.

As Trump walked out of the session in the Capitol basement, he was confronted by about a half-dozen House Democrats, who yelled, "Stop separating our families!"

Later in the day, protesters heckled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, chanting "Shame!" and "End family separation!"

A department spokesman tweeted that during a work dinner, the secretary and her staff heard from a small group of protesters who "share her concern with our current immigration laws."

Leaders in both the House and Senate are struggling to shield the party's lawmakers from the public outcry over images of children taken from migrant parents and held in cages at the border. But they are running up against Trump's shifting views on specifics and his determination, according to advisers, not to look soft on his signature immigration issue, the border wall.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said Trump told lawmakers he "would continue to support the legislation, and that people shouldn't be worried that he would change his mind." She said it was a light moment. "Everybody laughed."

Even if Republicans manage to pass an immigration bill through the House, which is a tall order, the fight is all but certain to fizzle in the Senate.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York, is adamant that Trump can end the family separations on his own and that legislation is not needed.

Without Democratic support, Republicans cannot muster the 60 votes needed to move forward on legislation.

Schumer said with most Americans against family separations, it's Republicans "feeling the heat on this issue, and that's why they're squirming."

In the House, GOP leaders scrambled Tuesday to produce a revised version of the broader immigration bill that would keep children in detention longer than now permitted but with their parents.

The major change unveiled Tuesday would loosen rules that now limit the amount of time minors can be held to 20 days, according to a GOP source familiar with the measure. Instead, the children could be detained indefinitely with their parents.

The revision would also give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to use $7 billion in border technology funding to pay for family detention centers, said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and commented only on condition of anonymity.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans are rallying behind a different approach. Theirs is narrow legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their hearings and possible deportation proceedings.

Cruz's bill would double the number of federal immigration judges, authorize new temporary shelters to house migrant families and limit the processing of asylum cases to no more than 14 days a goal immigrant advocates say would be difficult to meet.

"While cases are pending, families should stay together," tweeted Cruz, who is in an unexpectedly tough re-election battle.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters he's reaching out to Democrats for bipartisan backing.

The family separation issue boiled over Tuesday at a House hearing on an unrelated subject, when protesters with babies briefly shut down proceedings.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, pleaded with Republicans on the panel to "stand up" to Trump.

Under the administration's current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.

More than 2,300 minors were separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The national outcry has roiled midterm election campaigns, emboldening Democrats while putting Republicans on the defensive.

Top conservatives, including key Trump allies, have introduced bills to keep the migrant families together. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he has introduced a measure that "becomes a backup proposal" if others fail.

The House is to vote later this week on two bills that address broader immigration issues to protect young immigrant "Dreamers," who have been living in the U.S. illegally since childhood, from deportation and fund Trump's border wall.

But outlook for passage is dim. One conservative measure is expected to fail. And it's unclear if Trump's backing will help the compromise legislation that GOP leaders negotiated with moderate Republicans. Rep. Steve Scalise of Lousiana, the GOP whip, told reporters he thought it had enough support to pass. Votes are expected Thursday.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.,a member of the House Freedom Caucus, says he doesn't like compromise bill "because it's all compromising in one direction."

Perry was not at the meeting with Trump, but said he doubts the president's words will affect his position.

"Well, good for him, but he's not running for Congress."

Walker: Separating children at border is federal issue

MADISON Gov. Scott Walker refused to take a position Tuesday on the Trump administration's policy of separating families after illegal border crossings and ignored calls to pull Wisconsin National Guard troops off the southern border.

His refusal comes as some other Republican governors have declined to send or are withdrawing National Guard troops from the area amid criticism of the policy.

Democrats have criticized Walker over his decision to honor a request from Arizona officials and deploy Wisconsin National Guard troops to that state to bolster border security. Democrats are accusing Walker of helping President Donald Trump separate children from parents.

"Wisconsin's National Guard troops are on administrative assignments, and the cost is being paid for by the federal government," said Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg. "The policy related to individuals seeking asylum is a federal policy, and those with concerns should contact their federal lawmakers."

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling reacted to Walker's statement on Twitter saying, "What a pathetic lack of leadership and compassion." Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly sent their second letter to Walker in as many days Tuesday demanding he recall Wisconsin's troops.

"When children are being ripped from their parents by the thousands, you need to draw a line in the sand and stand up against cruelty," the letter said.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Black Earth Democrat, visited the Texas border over the weekend to see the situation himself. He issued a statement Tuesday saying Walker's decision to send troops to region makes him complicit in a humanitarian crisis.

"Gov. Walker is abandoning the family values he claims to have," Pocan said.

A number of governors have recalled their National Guard troops from the southern border, including Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, another Republican, has refused to send troops from his state.

While Walker tried to sidestep the issue, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson said he supported a bill from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would keep families together and speed up court proceedings for those attempting to enter the country to no more than 14 days.

"As a father I feel great concern any time I see a child crying out of fear or desperation, anywhere in the world," Nicholson said.

Nicholson has been endorsed by Cruz in the GOP primary where he faces state Sen. Leah Vukmir.

Vukmir was asked in an interview on WISN-TV on June 10 about separating families at the border.

"I believe that we are a nation of laws and we have to stand up and uphold those laws," she said. "There is a process that has to be upheld."

But on Tuesday, Vukmir issued a statement saying, "Of course families shouldn't be separated." Vukmir said Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, told her the Senate could act as soon as next week "on a fix to address this problem right away."

But Johnson said on WISN-TV on Sunday that there was "fair warning" about the consequences of trying to seek asylum.

"You are committing a crime; we are going to prosecute you. When you start prosecuting someone like that, you separate them from their loved ones," Johnson said.

Johnson's spokesman said Tuesday that Johnson "is working with his colleagues to find a legislative solution to this issue that keeps families together and does not encourage additional illegal immigration."

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who will face either Nicholson or Vukmir in November, has been staunchly against Trump's policy calling it "inhumane."

"Families are being torn apart at our border," she said on Twitter. "I'm outraged."


Associated Press