Kate Riga

Kate Riga is a news writer for Talking Points Memo based in New York City. Before joining TPM, Kate was the political reporter for The Southampton Press. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and a native of Philadelphia.

Articles by Kate

The three most recent former first ladies have banded together to condemn the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the border in a bipartisan call for compassion in the face of the immigrants’ plight.

Laura Bush opened the salvo on Sunday with an editorial in the Washington Post, a rare public position on policy from the usually low-key first lady.

“I live in a border state,” she said. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

Michelle Obama reached across the aisle to support her Republican counterpart on Monday with a retweet of Bush’s article. She captioned it: “Sometimes truth transcends party.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton had taken to the air Monday, devoting an award acceptance speech to her own disavowal of the cold-hearted practice.

“We are a better country than one that tears families apart, turns a blind eye to women fleeing domestic violence, and treats frightened children as a negotiating tool as a means to a political end,” she said. “These actions are an affront to our values and they undermine America’s reputation as a beacon of hope and freedom in the world.”

The comments of current first lady Melania Trump are more fraught. Her spokeswoman gave a statement to CNN on Sunday. “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” communications director Stephanie Grisham said. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

Though notable that the media-averse first lady made a statement at all, many take issue with her “both sides” rhetoric when the practice stems directly from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and her husband is fully vested with the power to roll it back.

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Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said Monday that he thinks reports of the frequency of families being separated at the border have been “greatly exaggerated.”

He then walked the statement back a bit, saying that “this is not my area of expertise.” He added that “maybe this is happening with a higher frequency than I’ve been aware of, and it is certainly, it’s just not the right thing to be doing.”

Toomey made the comments during an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.

He also advocated for the creation of family detention centers as a solution to the Trump administration’s practice.

Toomey added that the familial separations could become President Donald Trump’s Hurricane Katrina, or the equivalent of the humanitarian and political disaster that sank George W. Bush’s presidency.

“Yeah, yes. I suppose it could,” he said, affirming that this catastrophe could be Trump’s Katrina. “I mean, I think clearly, the country is focused on this. Clearly, it’s a horrendous situation if a small child is being taken away from the child’s actual mother. So I think we’ve got to solve this problem.”

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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday that the Trump administration does not apologize for “doing their jobs” by separating families at the border, adding falsely that they are waiting on Congress to change the law to stop the practice.

“We do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are in fact a family,” she said. “We have to do our job, we will not apologize for doing our job.”

She added that “we are also asking Congress to allow us to keep families together while they are detained,” invoking the false premise that separating families comes from a law, and not from the administration’s own “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

She continued that many “families” crossing the border are not families at all, saying that “illegal aliens” are “fraudulently” using unrelated children to gain entry into the country.

Watch below:

Nielsen came under fire recently for tweeting Sunday that the many stories of families being separated are products of “misreporting.”

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According to a Monday “CBS This Morning” report, border patrol spokespeople told the show that they are “very uncomfortable” with their reporters’ use of the term “cages” to describe where migrant children separated from their parents are kept, though they admit that it’s not inaccurate.

They reportedly added that though there “may be” cages, the people inside them are not treated like animals.

Watch below:

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The U.N.’s top human rights official called the United States’ practice of separating migrant families at the border “abuse” and called for an immediate stop to the practice, according to a Monday New York Times report.

“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

He reportedly cited a statement made by American Association of Pediatrics President Dr. Colleen Kraft when she called the practice “government-sanctioned child abuse.”

His office has decried the practice before, reportedly saying that it is in violation of the children’s rights and international law. This prompted admonishment from U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley who accused his office of “ignorance” and “hypocrisy,” per the New York Times.

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Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Monday that President Donald Trump must “step in and end” the policy of separating families at the border, due to both its immorality and the bad optics for him and his party.

“He has to step in there and has to end this thing because I think it is an inhumane and atrocious policy,” he told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. “It is offensive to the average American…and does not represent American values.”

He added that the disturbing imagery of and stories about families being separated will only hurt Trump politically. 

“The President is good at imagery,” he said. “He is a television star and understands that this is not good for him and not good for the congress if we want to win the midterms.”

Watch below:

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House Republicans, faced with growing public outcry over the separations of migrant families at the border, plan to confront President Donald Trump about changing the policy at a Tuesday meeting, according to a Monday Axios report.

Trump will be a guest at a special House Republicans meeting Tuesday evening, when GOP lawmakers reportedly plan to use Trump’s sensitivity to disturbing photos and negative media spin to circumvent Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

However, per Axios, Trump views family separation as a bargaining chip and is disinclined to roll back the policy without securing a concession like his border wall in return.

Republican sources reportedly told Axios that the story’s legs and emotional heft are making it a cudgel they fear will hammer GOP candidates during the midterms.

They also fear that the party line that the policy is Democrats’ fault and responsibility to change is too unbelievable to hide behind, as Republicans control all of Congress and the White House. Also, a simple fact check reveals that the separation practice comes from the Trump administration’s policy and not any preexisting law.

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President Donald Trump exploded presumably in response to a Washington Post report detailing FBI Agent Peter Strzok’s willingness to testify before Congress, attacking Strzok and the FBI in a Sunday tweetstorm.

Strzok was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team for sending texts indicating his personal anti-Trump views during the summer of 2017.

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The White House communications office, which has been without an official director since Hope Hicks’ departure in March, is steadily bleeding staffers, embroiling those remaining in uncertainty and infighting, according to a Sunday Politico report.

Senior officials are reportedly trying to stagger the exits, to make the losses seem smaller.

On the heels of Kelly Sadler’s departure Friday and rumors that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah are eyeing the exits, Politico reports that two more staffers will leave in the next couple weeks.

“The inside baseball of who will get purged, and when, is spiraling out of control,” a former White House aide told Politico. “People do not even care about the broader communications strategy when it’s all about internal warfare. Who cares how you roll out a legislative plan, when you’re trying to screw over the person to the left or right of you?”

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On the heels of Paul Manafort being sent to jail, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani hinted Friday that anyone convicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe may be spared by presidential pardons.

“When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” he told the New York Daily News.

His statement came mere hours after Manafort’s bail was revoked and he was ordered to stay in jail until his trial in September.

“I don’t understand the justification for putting him in jail,” Giuliani added to the Daily News. “You put a guy in jail if he’s trying to kill witnesses, not just talking to witnesses.”

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