President Trump visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with anxious Republicans who hoped he’d help them put out the firestorm he started with his decision to separate parents and children. Instead, he delivered a vintage meandering and bullying speech that offered little concrete guidance to desperate House Republicans about what to do on immigration.
Trump spent 45 minutes ranting to House Republicans on everything from taxes to his pending lawsuits Tuesday evening, according to members in the meeting, while offering barely any info about whether he’d support the specifics of a pair of bills that closely follow the President’s own policy goals on immigration.
The President did not specifically endorse compromise legislation crafted by Republicans in the House or spend much time laying out his directives on what he needs to end his self-created crisis of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, he delivered a rambling and, according to some members, barely coherent tirade that was short on specifics, even as he said he was “one thousand percent” behind the House GOP efforts on immigration.
“He said a lot of things. He said he supported the bill, I guess. It was very rambling, he talked about everything from the lawsuit to tax bills,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). “It was kind of hard to follow everything he says — it was like a bouncing ball.”
The president even took aim at Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who just lost a primary largely due to his past criticism of the president. After asking if Sanford was in the room, according to multiple members, Trump called him “nasty.”
“He was very ugly,” said Jones.
Republican members have been whipsawed by the President’s latest tantrum-driven policies on immigration and were hoping he’d give them more specific policy guidance — especially those facing tough re-election who are panicked at the backlash against his newfound policy of tearing children from their asylum-seeking parents. Yet the classic rambling stem-winder delivered by Trump left members grasping for a clear sense of whether he supports both of the GOP immigration bills they plan to vote on later this week.
“No. He did say he supported ‘the bill.’ He just doesn’t — he’s not specific, you know, he does things his own way,” retiring Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) said with a laugh when TPM asked if he’d explicitly endorsed the compromise bill hammered out by House GOP moderates and conservatives.
That left members grasping for a happy message of unity afterwards — especially since Trump has been known to change his mind and publicly attack congressional Republicans over legislation.
“He alluded to both [bills] at the beginning. But it was unambiguous, his support was we need to move this compromise bill,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) said.
“We finally have a president willing to work with Congress to solve this, and that’s what this bill does,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said.
House Republicans, like those in the Senate, say they’re hoping to end the policy of tearing apart families — “It is not good for anyone when children get separated from their parents,” moderate Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) said.
One of the bills offers an eventual pathway to citizenship for the approximately 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought here as children, and House Republicans are trying to hammer out legislative language to end Trump’s current policy of separating families. The second, more conservative bill, is much more onerous for immigrants who want to stay legally in the U.S.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), a leading pro-immigration Republican, told TPM that House members were “still massaging” the legislative language to end family separation.
The White House claimed that Trump offered his clear support of their plans.
“The President spoke to the House Republican conference on a range of issues. In his remarks, he endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal. He told the members, ‘I’m with you 100 percent,'” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said.
But he wasn’t that clear. And that isn’t a good sign for what Diaz-Balart called the “last shot” for Congress to improve the current immigration system before this fall’s elections.
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