As chaos and confusion continued to swirl in Washington about the fate of some 2,000 migrant children separated from their parents at the border, a tweet from vulnerable Republican Rep. Mike Coffman on Thursday made it clear that Republicans are bracing for major blowback on the Trump administration’s immigration policy in November.
Coffman, a Colorado US House member who is a top Democratic target this fall, took on President Donald Trump and his top policy adviser Stephen Miller, who helped shape the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal crossings at the border.
“The President should put a General, a respected retired CEO or some other senior leadership figure on the job of making sure each and every child is returned to their parents,” Coffman tweeted. “And the President should fire Stephen Miller now. This is a human rights mess. It is on the President to clean it up and fire the people responsible for making it.”
Coffman’s tweet reflected the political gravity of the family separation crisis for Republicans as they try to maintain control of the House of Representatives in November.
As the President and his advisers have tried to blame Democrats for the heart-wrenching results of their zero-tolerance policy, many Americans – including moderate Republicans and suburban women – have recoiled in horror from the scenes and sounds of young children torn from their parents at the border.
The public relations crisis for the Republican Party comes at a time when some vulnerable Republicans are deeply frustrated about their party’s inability to strike a compromise on immigration – which was punctuated late Thursday with the leadership’s decision to delay a vote on a comprehensive compromise immigration bill.
With an eye toward the fall, when Hispanic voters could come out in force, top targets like Coffman, Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and Jeff Denham and David Valadao of California – who represent the heavily Latino Central Valley – are testing how far they can distance themselves from the President’s harsh immigration rhetoric and his administration’s actions.
The high-wire act will be to show their independence from Trump without alienating his loyal base of Republican voters – or incurring his wrath.
Denham, who introduced the immigration compromise bill, advocated for a permanent solution to family separations on CNN this week by talking about his feelings as a father. He pointed out that the legislation he helped craft was “a 100% fix to make sure that children are not separated from their parents.”
“Look, I’m a father,” he told CNN’s John Berman on Wednesday. “I’m always going to make sure that my children are protected and never separated from me. So we need to fix that under law. Not executive order. Not the stroke of a pen.”
Denham, whose district is 40% Latino, also pressed the White House to make administrative fixes immediately: “We need to make sure we have these family residences, not orphanages that we used to send kids to, but family residences to keep kids with their parents. Deciding where their parents (are), where the kids should go. We should never separate the two.”
Hurd told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday that “it’s a little ridiculous that we have to legislate that you shouldn’t take kids from their mommies.”
On Thursday, explaining his vote against the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, favored by conservatives, Hurd said in a statement that he could not support the bill “that fails to effectively address family separations at the border.”
Another strident critic of the Trump administration’s policy, GOP Rep. Mia Love of Utah, could potentially face the wrath of voters this fall in her race in Utah’s 4th District, because there are so many Utah Republicans who disagree with the Trump administration on immigration policy.
For years, the Mormon Church has urged government officials to show greater compassion toward immigrants. This week the Mormon Church said in a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the “aggressive and insensitive treatment” of the families separated at the border.
In an interview with the Deseret News, Love called the Trump administration’s policy “horrible” and “absolutely terrible.”
“Separating families at the #border is not a right or left issue. This is simply right and wrong,” Love tweeted.
Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants who is facing a fierce challenge from Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, also put up a poster-like image of herself on Twitter with a bold orange and white headline that said, “Fixing Immigration. Keeping Families Together.”
But McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said Love had not gone far enough. He criticized her for not speaking out against the administration’s policies earlier this year when officials signaled that the administration was headed in a far more aggressive direction when it came to separating families.
“Once again, Rep. Love is all talk and no action,” Roberts said. “She knows Utahns disapprove of her past efforts to separate families and deport DREAMers and is desperately trying to cover her tracks during a competitive campaign. Love’s actions, however, speak louder than her words. Instead of fighting to get more support for the discharge petition in its final hour – ensuring a vote on multiple immigration bills – she chose to fundraise with Speaker Ryan – giving power back to the very DC political bosses she wants Utahns to believe she doesn’t answer to.”