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Politics In The News: Immigration And The Southern Border Crisis


President Trump is expected to meet Republican members of Congress today to talk about immigration legislation. The administration faces fierce criticism for a border policy that separates children from their parents when they are apprehended crossing the border. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced this policy, responded to claims that the zero-tolerance policy echoes Nazi Germany, in an interview on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle" yesterday.


JEFF SESSIONS: Well, it's a real exaggeration, of course. In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country. But this is a serious matter. We need to think it through, be rational and thoughtful about it. We want to allow asylum for people who qualify for it.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been following the debate. Hi there, Mara.


INSKEEP: Do Republicans broadly agree with the president's direction here?

LIASSON: No, they don't. There are tremendous splits inside the party. There are members from competitive seats in the House that are desperate to vote on something that will show they disagree with this policy. You've got the chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, Steve Stivers, calling on the administration to change the policy - stop separating children from their families. Ted Cruz, who's up for re-election - he's the conservative senator from Texas - he has a bill that would change this policy. And it's even been called by a conservative commentator Trump's Katrina. So the president still wants credit for being tough on the border. But he does not want to take responsibility for the more unpopular consequence of his policy, which is if you have zero tolerance, and you prosecute every illegal border crosser, you have to separate kids from their parents.

INSKEEP: And let's remember. This is a publicly announced policy - publicly announced by Jeff Sessions, publicly affirmed by other officials - although officials have now begun to deny it's a policy at all. And the president has been putting this on Democrats. Let's listen to some of that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Immigration is the fault - and all of the problems that we're having because we cannot get them to sign legislation. We can not get them even to the negotiating table. And I say it's very strongly the Democrats' fault.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention one other thing here, Mara Liasson. Anthony Scaramucci - friend to the president, supporter of the president, briefly the communications director - wrote on Twitter yesterday about the administration response to this. Quote, "you can't simultaneously argue that family separation isn't happening, that it is being used as a deterrent, that the Bible justifies it and that it's the Democrats' fault. The president is not being served well by his advisers on this issue." That's what Scaramucci says.

LIASSON: Yes, but I think the president maybe is not being served well by his instincts because his instincts are to blame the Democrats - or blame somebody else for things that he's doing that are unpopular. And he's been repeating this - it's the Democrats' fault - over and over again. And his strategy is to repeat something and to make an argument or a phrase dominate the media to try to change the terms of the debate and bend them to his point of view. It hasn't worked yet.

INSKEEP: Now, another thing the administration is claiming is they're helpless to do anything about this policy that they announced and implemented and that Congress needs to change the law. And there is some legislation on the table, right?

LIASSON: Yes, there is legislation on the table although several Republicans have said that the White House could fix it with one phone call if they wanted to because this is the result of an administration policy not a law. But there is legislation - will be considered in the House when the president goes to Capitol Hill today to talk to Republicans. He's going to be talking about that legislation. It's unclear - there are two bills. It's unclear whether either of them could pass. But one of them, a compromise bill being pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, includes four of the things - the four pillars that the president wants - money for the wall, path to citizenship for the DREAMers, big cuts in legal immigration, and they're trying to put some language in there that would also allow families to be detained together.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - is family separation as unpopular as many lawmakers seem to think it is?

LIASSON: It is with the broad public. Sixty-six to 27 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll disapprove of it. But among Republicans, 55 to 35 percent approve. And that's the problem for the president. His base loves this. The broader population of voters do not.

INSKEEP: Thanks, NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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