Only he can fix it.
President Trump dropped a mess into Congress’s lap with his new policy separating families at the border. While Republicans are promising a quick fix to the policy — which many concede was cruelly conceived and poorly executed — they emerged from early talks on Tuesday with no clear path forward to resolving this latest manufactured crisis.
Senate Republicans say they will move on immigration legislation as early as this week, but prospects for an agreement are dim. They GOP caucus is deeply divided on whether Trump should temporarily halt the family separations until they can work out a long-term legislative fix. They aren’t yet rallying around a single bill to address the situation. And the president poured cold water on the one Senate GOP proposal that had any momentum.
“We haven’t had a very good track record in resolving immigration issues. We’ll see,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told TPM, when asked if he thought the Senate would actually be able to strike a deal to end the inhumane treatment of migrant children.
Corker, who is retiring, was blunter than most Republicans in acknowledging that the problem was created entirely by the Trump administration and that Senate Republicans are not yet close on a deal their caucus could all agree to, let alone one that could pass the Senate, the House, and an unpredictable president.
Trump’s Tuesday evening visit to Capitol Hill to meet with House Republicans on immigration legislation set to get a vote later this week could complicate matters even further.
“The president could change the dynamic quickly,” Corker said. “That’s something he has control over. We had a major policy change without the forethought of all the things it’d take infrastructure-wise to handle it appropriately. They could call time out and have a different policy for a period of time while this is being resolved, but I certainly have no control over that. … What I worry about right now is there being a Democratic bill and a Republican bill and saying there’s a solution but no solution comes out of it.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is leading the charge on asking the administration for such a “time out” — a moratorium on family separations while Congress attempts to cobble together a bill.
“I would like to get a little bit more time” on immigration, he told reporters. “It’s not easy, but we can handle it if we have enough time to do it.” Hatch added that there was a “very positive reaction” to his letter at Tuesday’s GOP lunch, but as of Tuesday evening, only 13 of the Senate’s 51 Republicans had signed on.
When asked by TPM on Tuesday about Hatch’s effort, some GOP lawmakers danced around the question, while others explicitly endorsed Trump’s strategy of using the families as leverage to pass a broader immigration bill.
“If the problem is no longer there, the Congress will definitely not act to solve a future problem,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said. “If you want to solve the problem, the pressure of trying to get families and kids back together in the shortest period of time is probably the kind of dynamic we need.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to back Hatch’s push, saying instead that his focus is on bills crafted by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) that would allow migrant families to be detained together, ending the current law requiring the release of children after 20 days of detention.
“There’s no reason to dilly-dally. We should be able to get this done in short order, like in a matter of days,” Cornyn told reporters Tuesday.
As McConnell called Tuesday for “a narrow solution targeted at this particular problem,” President Trump gave a speech attacking the Senate GOP’s bills as being too narrowly focused.
“Ultimately we have to have a real border, not judges,” Trump said during a Tuesday afternoon speech, bashing the part of Cruz’s plan that would beef up the number of immigration judges to be able to faster process families’ asylum claims. “Thousands and thousands of judges they want to hire — who are these people?”
Some Republicans made noises about working with Democrats, all 49 of whom have signed onto a bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would reverse Trump’s rushed policy, as Democrats demanded Trump back off his new policy.
“Mister President, you started it. You can stop it,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters. “If the president’s ashamed at what’s happening at the border he can change it.”
Trump allies and immigration hardliners seemed more than happy to let the chaos play out and blame Democrats for the havoc their president has wrought. The only thing uniting the GOP caucus, at this point, is hostility to Feinstein’s proposal.
“There’s certainly consensus that we’re not going to codify catch-and-release, which 49 Democrats want to do,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) told reporters. “Their bill would basically make children at the border a get into the U.S. free ticket, a get out of jail free ticket.”
Cornyn, the Senate’s GOP whip, echoed Cotton’s denunciation of Democrats’ bill.
“The Feinstein bill basically doesn’t allow for the enforcement of the law,” he said. “We need to do both — keep families together and enforce the law. We don’t have to make a choice between those.”
In short, there is little to no appetite among Senate Republicans to work with Democrats to solve the mess the administration has made. Even if they were able to pass a bipartisan bill, it would likely fail in the House, where leadership is demanding a broad-based immigration bill that closely matches Trump’s policy demands on a border wall, deep cuts to legal immigration, and changes to many other aspects of immigration law.
The president could also, as he has several times, stop the fledgling negotiations in their tracks.
Trump is set to meet Tuesday evening with House Republicans, who are pushing a pair of immigration bills that closely match Trump’s favored policies on slashing legal immigration and building a border wall. Those bills are expected to come up for a vote on Thursday, but it appears unlikely either can pass the full House — not to mention the Senate.
Trump famously declared “I alone can fix it” at his 2016 Republican National Convention speech. On Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared “Congress alone can fix it” while talking about an end to the Trump-created crisis. And on Tuesday, lawmakers made it clear that wasn’t likely to happen.