Congressional Republicans, keen to secure an end to a policy separating children from their parents at the US border, received unclear marching orders from President Donald Trump on Tuesday after a meeting on Capitol Hill.
Some lawmakers emerged from the hour-long huddle adamant Trump had endorsed a compromise measure that would allow families to remain together.
But others were more equivocal, saying Trump only expressed support for any bill that arrives on his desk – either the compromise plan or a more conservative version whose prospects appear dim.
The White House said afterward Trump “endorsed both House immigration bills,” which also provide funding for his promised border wall and close certain immigration loopholes.
But the lack of a clear endorsement for either plan quieted GOP hopes for presidential momentum.
“It’s always nice to see the President but this didn’t move the ball,” one Republican lawmaker said.
The meeting came at a pivotal moment – both for Trump’s presidency and his party – as the GOP-controlled House of Representatives prepares to hold major votes on two very different immigration bills this week. It also happened following images and audio of children being detained in cages flashed across television sets, leading to widespread uproar.
Trump acknowledged during the session the images look bad, multiple lawmakers said afterward. But he did not indicate he was preparing to take any steps to end the family separation practice.
Departing Capitol Hill, Trump said briefly he had a “great meeting” with his fellow Republicans.
“These are laws that have been broken for many years, decades,” Trump said. “But we had a great meeting.”
’A total miscue from the administration’
Ahead of his meeting on Tuesday evening, Trump went back and forth about whether he would support one of the bills set to come to the floor this week, even though his own White House helped negotiate that very measure.
The White House has indicated, and again indicated after the meeting, Trump backed both immigration bills pending in the House: One meant to appeal to conservative members, and another more moderate compromise.
Emerging from the conference meeting, some Republicans said Trump was clear he would approve the compromise bill if it passes.
Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican, said the President was “crystal clear” during the meeting that he is behind the compromise legislation.
Other GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Mia Love of Utah and Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, also said they took Trump’s remarks as an endorsement of the measure.
But other Republican lawmakers indicated Trump did not specifically voice support for the compromise bill.
The White House said he still backs both.
“He told the members, ‘I’m with you 100%,’” said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman.
Before the meeting, some Republicans were skittish that the President could thwart the hard-fought compromise bill with a random tweet or off-the-cuff comment. After it, lawmakers across the GOP spectrum expressed frustration that Trump hadn’t lent his explicit support to either plan.
A GOP leadership source said the meeting was not helpful for the prospects of passing either bill. And a source in the conservative Freedom Caucus source was even harsher: “It’s a total miscue from the administration. Both of these bills are designed to fail, and the President is the only one who doesn’t get the joke.”
Just hours before heading to the Hill Tuesday, Trump unloaded on Democrats over immigration, once again blaming them for the family separations and accusing them on Twitter of wanting “illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”
And in a speech, he strayed from his prepared remarks to express frustration about the issue and said he planned to make changes to the legislation.
“So, we have a House that’s getting ready to finalize an immigration package that they’re going to brief me on later, and then I’m gonna make changes to it,” Trump said while speaking to small business owners in Washington. “We have one chance to get it right. We might as well get it right, or let’s just keep it going.”
What Republicans have been working on
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