President Donald Trump told House Republicans during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday evening that his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, appealed to him to end the Justice Department’s “zero-tolerance” policy at the southern border that leads to the separation of children from their parents, according to multiple lawmakers who attended the meeting.
“She has been apparently very affected by this and moved, and asked him to find a way to stop this practice,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) told The Daily Beast. “He said that he agrees that this should end, but he believes that it should end with a legislative fix.”
In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented a policy requiring children be separated from their parents if they cross the southern border illegally to seek asylum. Trump has falsely blamed Democrats for the practice and called on Congress to fix the matter legislatively, even as his top advisers, including policy chief Stephen Miller, defend the practice as a deterrent to illegal border crossings.
“The administration should stop the practice now, especially while Congress is seeking a legislative fix,” Curbelo added.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House said Trump “endorsed” both immigration bills the House is considering on Thursday, either of which, according to lawmakers, would address the family-separation issue. The proposals—one that is more conservative and the other billed as a “compromise” plan—would deal with legal protections for young undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, in addition to security measures at the southern border.
But Republicans remain unsure if either of the bills will pass the House, and neither of them is likely to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate—even if GOP leaders decide to spend valuable floor time on the issue.
It’s unclear if the president’s remarks Tuesday moved the needle or successfully encouraged lawmakers who were on the fence, though many of the more moderate House Republicans said they remained undecided after hearing from him on whether they would vote for the compromise package.
Other Republicans who attended the meeting with Trump told The Daily Beast that the president spent more time talking about taxes, tariffs, and North Korea than the immigration issue. They noted that Trump did not take any questions from lawmakers, and said there were no confrontations during the meeting. One GOP source described the event as a “speech” rather than a conversation.
“If he started taking questions, a lot of people would just get up and praise him. You wouldn’t get a lot of substantive questions. You’d just get a lot of people thanking him for this and that. You never know who’s going to go up to the mic and what they’re going to say,” said Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA), who is not seeking re-election.
Democratic members of the Hispanic Caucus gathered outside the meeting room in the basement of the Capitol to protest the family-separation policy.
Despite members of both parties saying that the separation of families at the border should end, Congress is still far from reaching a legislative solution that could pass both chambers. After Trump’s meeting with House Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a statement that noted just how far apart the parties are.
“Speaker Ryan wants to pass a massive bill that may not even pass the House and couldn’t pass the Senate, the Senate Republicans are supposedly eyeing a bill that the president wouldn’t sign even if it made it to his desk, and the president continues to try to use these separated families as hostages in the legislative process,” Schumer said. “Anyone who believes this Republican Congress is capable of addressing this issue is kidding themselves. The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”