WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in a closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday, called on lawmakers to pass a broad immigration reform package that would offer a legislative fix to his administration’s migrant parent-child separation policy, while meeting his demands for increased border wall funding.
“The immigration system, it’s been a really bad, bad system, probably the worst anywhere in the world, and we’re gonna try and see if we can fix it,” Trump told reporters before heading into the meeting on Capitol Hill.
Amid the growing uproar over the family separation policy, Senate Republican leaders said they planned to craft narrow legislation on the family separation issue to pass this week. And House Republicans, already mired in a weekslong intraparty struggle, discussed adding language in two broader bills it hopes to vote on Thursday.
Trump pressed his party, which controls both the House and the Senate, to fix a policy his administration just put in place in the past two months — one that has forced the separation of 2,000 children from their families over a six-week period.
“So what I’m asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year, the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit,” Trump said speaking at a business group event before his meeting with lawmakers. “We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly responded.
“The president says we need to act. Democrats say we need to act. And we say we need to act. When that happens, we act. And this is the week that hopefully all of us can come together,” said McConnell.
“Obviously it needs to be a narrow agreement to fix the problem that we all agree needs to be fixed,” McConnell said, and will need bipartisan support. “The first thing is to see if we can agree; the second thing is to see how you process it.”
But there appeared to be little agreement among Republicans or Democrats, much less between the partisan blocs.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) urged a suspension of the “zero-tolerance policy” creating the problem while Congress tries to fix it. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on Trump to simply end the policy.
Senate Democrats rebuffed Republican requests that they join in to pass a quick fix, saying Trump could easily rescind the policy.
“Mr. President, you started it. You can stop it,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), stressing that the policy does not arise from a law that needs to be changed.
Schumer said the idea of quick-fix legislation is “an excuse” by Republicans who are feeling the heat over pictures of children in fenced-in “cages” and audio of children crying for their parents, but don’t want to attack the president.
“They know legislation will take a very long time and is unlikely to happen. And the flick of the president’s pen could solve this tomorrow,” Schumer said.
But with the blessing of House Democratic leaders, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill to keep families together at the border — offering a legislative option despite Schumer’s protestations.
Trump in the closed-door meeting with House Republicans endorsed two separate versions of a House GOP immigration reform bill, said White House Deputy Spokesman Raj Shah. Lawmakers say both measures could address the pressing issue of family separation.
King, speaking after the meeting, said Trump did not take questions from the lawmakers, but did address the images of migrant children behind chain link fences looking like cages, telling lawmakers, “They look bad, they are bad.”
Despite growing criticism from Democrats and many Republicans, Trump has dug in, returning to the harsh and broad denunciations of illegal immigration that he made during his presidential campaign to stoke his voter base. And he still blames Democrats, without evidence.
More moderate Republicans have been pushing a bill to address young people brought here illegally as children after Trump rescinded the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, commonly called DACA. Conservative Republicans have resisted their efforts.
Both bills also include the key Trump demands of tougher border security including a wall, the end of the visa lottery, and immigration-based merit instead of family reunification.
House Republican leaders concede neither of the two bills has the votes to pass at this point. Conservatives say the compromise legislation that GOP leaders helped negotiate with moderates is inadequate.
Even if one of the two bills passes in the House in votes that could happen Thursday, the legislation could die in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority.
After meeting with Congress, Trump tweeted:
Homeland Security @SecNielsen did a fabulous job yesterday at the press conference explaining security at the border and for our country, while at the same time recommending changes to obsolete & nasty laws, which force family separation. We want “heart” and security in America!
With Laura Figueroa Hernandez