(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump’s family separation policy is continuing to create havoc for his administration, and ramped-up rhetoric from the president won’t help.
The White House has struggled to display a unified response to a self-imposed crisis that appears likely to dominate the national agenda for a third straight week. Sunday offered a fresh signal that immigration would continue to overshadow other issues as Republicans gear up for a tough midterm election in November.
Trump ratcheted up his demands on immigration, saying that people who “invade” the U.S. illegally should be deported immediately without trial or other normal judicial processes.
“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,’’ Trump said Sunday on Twitter.
“When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back to where to came from. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.’’
Taking to Twitter again Monday, Trump pressed his case for building a border wall that he said would stop illegal immigration “in its tracks.’’ He promised to continue tough immigration enforcement during a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
“We want strong borders and we want no crime,” Trump said. “That’s what we are going to get. We are going to get it sooner than people think.”
Trump’s proposal to enact extra-judicial deportations, aimed squarely at his most nativist supporters, is a potential violation of the Constitution with no clear backing in Congress. His hardline positions on immigration have flummoxed Republican congressional leaders, who had hoped to focus midterm voters on the strong economy and the 2017 tax law that they contend undergirds it.
Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press’’ if Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric makes his job harder, Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma responded, “it does.’’
Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, blasted Trump as “an absolute bigot and sadist” on Monday after touring a local facility used for housing some of the children taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The division of families “hearkens back to times when we treated entire races and cultures of individuals as less than human, and that seems the direction that the president continues to push us toward.”
The vast majority of Americans oppose Trump’s family separation policy, which he reversed in an executive order on Wednesday. Seventy-two percent were against in a CBS News poll released on Sunday, though Republicans were split about evenly.
But Trump’s strongest backers — whom Trump hopes to motivate to vote in fall congressional elections during which he won’t be on the ballot — are dramatically more favorable toward the separation policy and punishment for illegal entrants. They’re also more suspicious that most would-be immigrants are criminals, according to the poll. Eighty-one percent of Republicans said they approved of his overall handling of the matter.
More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents under Trump’s “zero-tolerance’’ approach, forcing Congress to consider emergency legislation in response to news reports of crying babies who were sent hundreds of miles away from their parents.
Adding to the confusion, the Trump administration announced late Saturday a series of steps to reunite families that had been separated at the border under a policy the president appeared to renounce with an executive order on Wednesday.
But the announcement by the Department of Homeland Security raised several questions about whether the administration had been mishandling the processing of separated parents and children in the weeks before Trump’s order.
The fact-sheet released by DHS said that 522 children have been reunited with their families so far by border patrol authorities. But it wasn’t clear how many of those reunions had taken place since Trump’s order, and how many of the children who had been transferred to the Health and Human Services Department had rejoined their families.
The statement also suggested that many of the reunifications occurred among families who are willing to be deported. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials didn’t respond to questions about the process.
Some lawmakers have called for bringing on more judges to more quickly process asylum cases. Yet Trump has said he doesn’t support additional judges.
Some Republican lawmakers have tried to defend the president, but had to acknowledge that they weren’t sure what he was doing.
“To set forth a policy and then have to reverse it is not a consistent message obviously, to be candid with you,’’ Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, said on “Fox News Sunday.’’
McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, couldn’t answer definitively when asked if he knew whether the Trump administration was still using a “zero-tolerance’’ policy to prosecute everyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally.
“It’s very unclear how this executive order is playing out,’’ he said.
Dozens of Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, rushed to the border and to immigration detention facilities in Texas over the weekend to highlight the problems caused by Trump’s zero-tolerance approach, and splashed their conclusions over social media.
“Unmitigated disaster — mothers who haven’t spoken to their kids, others who’ve been told their kids will be up for adoption,” Representative Jackie Speier of California said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Trump — who’s stepped up his pace of campaigning for the mid-term elections, and will travel this week to South Carolina, North Dakota and Wisconsin — has doubled down on tough immigration rhetoric, and predicted his hard-line approach will ultimately help Republicans in November.
“I got elected largely because we are strong on the border,’’ Trump said Saturday during a speech at the Nevada Republican party state convention. If the U.S. shows any “weakness,” he said, “we will be overrun.”
On Friday, Trump undercut Republican attempts to address immigration in Congress, with a tweet urging lawmakers to stop “wasting their time’’ by trying to pass an immigration bill until after the November elections. Days before, he had traveled to Capitol Hill to tell GOP lawmakers he supported their efforts.
The House bill is “likely to fail” when it comes up for a vote Tuesday, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said during an appearance on Fox News, adding that conservatives would then push a more tailored bill addressing the separations.
Trump instead predicted that a “Red Wave’’ of Republicans winning in the mid-terms would help bolster his Congressional majorities, despite public polling, and historical precedent, that indicates the opposite.
(Updates with Trump, Wasserman Schultz comments beginning with fifth paragraph.)
–With assistance from Laura Litvan, Jennifer Epstein, Shannon Pettypiece and Nathan Crooks.
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