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Trump’s chest-beating retreat on migrant families

President Donald Trump meets with Republican members of

President Donald Trump meets with Republican members of Congress in the White House on immigration issues on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

Digging out, not in

He couldn’t do it without Congress. Until he could.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to halt his policy of separating migrant parents detained at the Mexican border from their children. The outcry over their trauma, growing by the day and hour, even reached inside his family — Melania and Ivanka felt “very strongly,” Trump said as he caved.

He admitted no mistake and tried to put the best face on his about-face. With Republican members of Congress seated around him as a support group of sorts, Trump said:

“If you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I’d rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma,” said Trump, sounding more subdued than usual. (See video here.)

Trump vowed to keep on pushing for tougher border security. His order calls for the government to criminally prosecute all adults caught crossing the border illegally — “zero tolerance” — but also to keep families together while in custody, and to ask the military to help house them.

It also calls for expediting hearings, but officials doubt they can abide by a 1997 legal agreement that limits the time minors can be held in immigration detention centers to 20 days. The Justice Department will ask the courts for leeway to keep them longer. Challenges from immigrant advocacy groups are likely.

See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.

No undoing damage done

Despite Trump’s order, there’s little prospect of quick reunions with parents for the more than 2,300 children who have already been separated from their parents. As has been the case since the policy was launched, officials put out conflicting information.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department will start reuniting detained immigrant children with their parents. He made no specific commitment on how soon.

But Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, a division of HHS, told The New York Times, “There will not be a grandfathering of existing cases.”

Then another spokesman said the first spokesman misspoke.

Many kids have been sent to shelters more than 1,000 miles from the border. More than 300 are in New York facilities, including babies as young as 9 months.

A pediatric emergency physician in Denver told BuzzFeed of toddlers petrified and traumatized. Doctors and lawyers who visited “tender age” shelters in Texas said the kids there, many of them younger than 4, were hysterical and crying, The Associated Press reported. The psychological scars can last a lifetime.

Gridlocked up

Trump still wants Congress to act — on both family separations and his bigger wish list — but prospects there are only looking dimmer.

House Republican leaders hope to hold a vote Thursday on immigration bills from two competing GOP factions, but neither measure appeared Wednesday to have the votes to pass, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.

House Democrats oppose both measures. Even if one of the immigration bills does pass, it faces an even bigger hurdle in the Senate, where the 51-member Republican majority needs 60 votes to pass a bill.

Kiss that Nobel goodbye?

World leaders weighing against Trump’s policy before he reversed it included Britain’s Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Pope Francis. Also: a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which would consider calls for Trump to get the Peace Prize as a reward for his nascent peace negotiations with North Korea.

Trump is “no longer the moral leader of his country or the world,” said Thorbjorn Jagland.

Janison: Hasn’t kicked in

Trump is well into his second year as president, but little has been done to fulfill his campaign promises to combat opioid addiction.

Dozens of bills drafted as emergency responses to the opioid scourge are kicking around Congress, but little if any visible direction has come from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

For a time, one of its top officials was a 24-year-old former campaign intern with no professional experience. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Womper room

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski refused to apologize over a TV appearance in which he dismissed a story about a migrant mother separated from a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome with a derisive “womp, womp.”

“I mocked a liberal who attempted to politicize children as opposed to discussing the real issue which is fixing a broken immigration system,” he tweeted.

Border patrol confirmed the case. It said the mother was a witness in a human smuggling case and they were working with the Justice Department to reunite the family as soon as possible.

Et tu, Michael?

Michael Cohen, who in the past declared himself so loyal to Trump that he’d take a bullet for him, criticized the migrant policy shortly before Trump signed the executive order to stop it.

“As the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy is heart wrenching,” Cohen said. “While I strongly support measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as bargaining chips.”

Tensions have grown between Trump and the former lawyer-fixer, who is facing a criminal investigation. Cohen also quit his post as deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee’s Finance Committee Wednesday, two months after the FBI raided his home and office.

What else is happening

  • Education and Labor would merge into a single department under an upcoming White House proposal. Congress would need to approve the change. 
  • Publicly silent on the border crisis until Trump’s reversal order, daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted thanks and cast the migrants in a softer light than her dad, who rails about criminals. They are people who share Americans’ “values” and “endeavor to create a better life for their families,” she said.
  • Trump postponed a White House picnic that was scheduled for Thursday night for members of Congress, saying the timing “doesn’t feel right.”
  • Vanessa Trump — the estranged wife of Donald Trump Jr. — deleted a tweet about happily sending her kids off to summer camp, which set off a Twitter backlash from foes of her father-in-law’s policy.
  • The White House notified the Secret Service after a series of vile tweets from Hollywood actor Peter Fonda. One said Trump’s 11-year-old son Barron should be separated from his mother and put “in a cage with pedophiles.” Another called for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to be put in a cage naked and whipped.
  • Nielsen’s dinner at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Washington Tuesday night was interrupted by protesters.
  • Louisiana Republicans are complaining to the White House about Rudy Giuliani helping a campaign to unseat pro-Trump incumbent GOP Rep. Clay Higgins. It turns out Giuliani’s new girlfriend, fundraiser Jennifer LeBlanc, is working for the challenger, Politico reported.
  • Another former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, plans to spend at least $80 million in the 2018 midterm cycle, largely for Democrats seeking a House majority. “Republicans in Congress have had almost two years to prove they could govern responsibly. They failed,” a Bloomberg statement said.
  • Veteran Republican operative Steve Schmidt — John McCain’s chief strategist in 2008 — said he is renouncing the party because of Trump and the “cowardice of the Republican leaders.” He said the last straw was the forced separation of families, and he will now support Democrats.

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