House Speaker Nancy Pelosi grew emotional at a press conference Thursday when asked to describe her reaction to a shocking photo of a drowned father and daughter lying face down in the water of the Rio Grande, part of the US border with Mexico.
Before answering, Pelosi paused for nine seconds while staring down, with both hands on the podium. When she answered, she spoke softly at first, her voice appearing to waver slightly as she started to speak.
“Can you just imagine, the father put the little girl on the shore to go back to get the mother, and the little girl wanted to be with her father,” Pelosi said, adding, “She got back in. And then he couldn’t save her, and then he couldn’t save himself. This is such a tragedy.”
Pelosi, who’s been to the southern border before, noted the power of the river, saying “the Rio Grande has personality. This is not just a little river that you swim across.”
“I can just imagine how that happened and I, I just think it’s such a shame for that to be the face of America around the world,” Pelosi added.
The searing image shows the bodies of Oscar Alberto Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, from El Salvador, lying face down in murky waters. Their heads are wrapped in a black T-shirt, and her tiny right arm is draped over his shoulder.
It has further galvanized debate about the conditions at the US-Mexico border, the humanitarian crisis unfolding there and immigration to America.
Congress is in a race against the clock to try to get an emergency border aid bill over the finish line and to the President’s desk before leaving for the July 4th recess. It’s not yet clear lawmakers will be able to reach an agreement that President Donald Trump will sign off on. The Senate and House have both passed their own versions of an emergency border funding bill, but have yet to reconcile the measures.
Trump blamed his political opponents’ immigration policies on Wednesday for the drowning deaths, saying the measures are the reason they were traveling across the river in the first place.
Pelosi argued on Thursday that she is focused on protecting children, saying that she is a “lioness” when it comes to the issue.
“If you start endangering children, I become a lioness. You get near those cubs and it just evokes a response that is natural. And, as a mother of five, grandmother of nine, I just feel that way about all children.”
CNN’s Natalie Gallón and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.