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Trump urges House GOP to pass immigration bill

President Trump met with Republican lawmakers to discuss immigration legislation amid the growing crisis of families being separated at the border. CNN's Abby Phillip reports.

Posted: Jun 21, 2018 2:59 AM
Updated: Jun 21, 2018 3:01 AM

It will take more than the cries of babies to make President Donald Trump back down on immigration, an issue that has animated his most ardent political supporters since he first stepped into politics.

The crisis over traumatized kids separated from their parents after illegally crossing the southern border is only deepening after Trump rejected pleas to uncouple their fate from his efforts to drive his hardline border security and visa policies into law.

While some Republicans are responding to rising outrage at the treatment of the children that one top pediatrician derided as "government-sanctioned child abuse," Trump is defiant and exacerbating the controversy with extreme rhetoric.

Meeting with House Republicans to go over potential legislative fixes, Trump spoke of the heartwrenching images mostly in political terms rather than sympathetic ones.

The President told lawmakers that media coverage of "the crying babies doesn't look good politically," one member told CNN's Dana Bash.

His former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, perpetuated the message that for some Trump supporters stories of the forced separations should be callously dismissed.

While appearing Tuesday on Fox News, former senior Democratic National Committee adviser Zac Petkanas shared an anecdote he had read about "a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome" who had been "taken from her mother and put in a cage."

"Womp, womp," the former Trump campaign manager responded dismissively.

Trump's firm stance appears to reflect a belief that immigration is so crucial to his connection with his political base that a climbdown is unthinkable. So he continues to market his false claim that the separations are the fault of laws that tie his hands.

The President continued to deflect responsibility on Wednesday, blaming news coverage for ignoring security issues related to illegal immigration.

"Our immigration laws are the weakest and worst anywhere in the world, and the Dems will do anything not to change them & to obstruct-want open borders which means crime!" he tweeted.

Divergence of interests

His calculation points to a rare divergence of interests between Trump and lawmakers who have largely toed his line after his takeover of the GOP. While the President has an eye on his 2020 coalition, many Republicans fear the storm could doom them with suburban, independent and more moderate voters during November's midterm elections.

The President's strategy also relies on his capacity to maintain the misdirection and falsehood that he has concocted around the issue that has been parroted by conservative media.

To that end, Trump poured praise on his Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday, after she braved the White House press corps and defended his policy.

"(She) did a fabulous job yesterday at the press conference explaining security at the border and for our country, while at the same time recommending changes to obsolete & nasty laws, which force family separation. We want "heart" and security in America!" Trump tweeted.

The risk for Trump is that he is increasingly isolated amid a torrent of criticism of the separations, from political, spiritual, business leaders and even US allies, unleashed by heart rending audio of wailing children and pictures of kids in chain-link fencing in detention facilities.

There is meanwhile more than a little irony over the White House's insistence that Trump lacks the power to stop the separations and that his hands are tied by Congress.

After all, this is a President who has argued he has sweeping executive powers -- ones that he said he used in good faith to fire former FBI Director James Comey, for instance, and insists could even be used to pardon himself if any transgressions on his part are found the Russia investigation.

Crucial moment

The crucial moment of a day of drama and shifting political terrain was the Capitol Hill meeting on Tuesday evening.

But according to the testimony of those inside the session, the President dealt with the plight of the kids as a political problem rather than dwelling on the humanitarian implications of a practice that he has executive power to change if he wanted.

Earlier, the President poured oil on the fire in a meandering speech to a group of small business owners, in which he accused the media of helping child smugglers and suggested undocumented immigrants are criminals and gang members, after tweeting earlier that Democrats wanted to "infest" America with "illegal immigrants."

By refusing to change course, despite Republican pressure, and by resisting the possibility of standalone legislation to fix the issue, Trump effectively signaled he wants something in return.

One person in the room told CNN's Sunlen Serfaty that the President repeatedly stressed the need for the border wall that he once promised Mexico would pay for.

"I am behind you so much. We need the wall," he said, according to the source.

The White House said that Trump expressed support for two Republican immigration reform bills, one meant to appeal to conservatives and one to more moderate GOP members.

"He told the members, 'I'm with you 100%,' " said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman.

After modifications, both bills would now end the practice of family separations, giving the President a face saving way out of the controversy.

But even the compromise bill contains changes to the legal immigration system, including an end to the visa lottery system and restrictions on family migration that are almost certain to kill its chances in the Senate, many reform advocates believe.

Seeking political advantage

By refusing to consider the separations in isolation, Trump appears to be trying to change the political dynamics for bills enforcing his policies on immigration. Such an approach makes White House denials that the President is trying to use the kids at the southern border as leverage ring hollow.

But Trump has shown an uncanny capacity to assess the feelings of his ever-loyal voters and proven that there is political mileage in sticking to his guns despite growing public outrage.

Trump voters first bonded with their champion over immigration, and Trump seems to be confident that his argument that the rule of law must be implemented and that the children are being used as pawns by parents who broke the law by crossing the border will appeal to his coalition.

One Trump voter in Arizona, Carl Bier, told CNN's Martin Savidge that he was behind the President all the way.

"These people that we have coming across the border illegally are breaking the rules, I have no feelings for them at all," said Bier.

Adding to the sense of confusion on Capitol Hill, many members left the meeting with the President still uncertain about exactly what he stands for -- in a parallel of many of his troubled interactions with his fellow Republicans that helped doom last year's health care reform effort.

Most Republicans in Washington accept the premise that immigration reform is so fundamental to shaping the dynamics of their party's politics that no measure can pass without a strong and relentless effort by Trump to sell legislation to his base and his willingness to give GOP members cover.

Many members had hoped to see that kind of leadership on Tuesday, but didn't, one member told CNN's Jeff Zeleny on condition of anonymity.

"It's always nice to see the President but this didn't move the ball," the member said.

Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican who is one of the GOP's most endangered lawmakers in November, told CNN's Erin Burnett that it wasn't clear what would happen next.

"I think it's a little bit ridiculous that we have to legislate that you shouldn't take kids from their mommies," Hurd said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 751242

Reported Deaths: 13795
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1032931788
Lake556911009
Allen41692692
St. Joseph36990565
Hamilton36588417
Elkhart29398461
Tippecanoe22901226
Vanderburgh22556400
Porter19356325
Johnson18471389
Hendricks17682317
Clark13226195
Madison13149344
Vigo12614253
LaPorte12419221
Monroe12207176
Delaware10966198
Howard10321225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8576146
Bartholomew8169157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7811180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6966103
Morgan6761141
Dubois6218118
Marshall6209116
Cass6016110
Henry5900110
Dearborn589878
Noble581488
Jackson509076
Shelby501496
Lawrence4742122
Gibson444894
Clinton442355
Harrison441875
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438090
Whitley406543
Huntington402681
Steuben400159
Miami395269
Jasper388054
Knox375991
Putnam372960
Wabash361983
Ripley347170
Adams345555
Jefferson335886
White331953
Daviess3033100
Wells295281
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246036
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228058
Fountain220948
Sullivan214643
Owen211858
Fulton202942
Jay200932
Carroll193620
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion174844
Franklin170335
Tipton166246
Parke149416
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120647
Newton113936
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101714
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108736

Reported Deaths: 20166
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1287201467
Cuyahoga1157922211
Hamilton813971250
Montgomery525481043
Summit484271001
Lucas43353820
Butler39013606
Stark33332929
Lorain25672505
Warren24591303
Mahoning22370603
Lake21207388
Clermont20117253
Delaware18852136
Licking16662222
Fairfield16574204
Trumbull16548482
Medina15610271
Greene15281248
Clark14237306
Wood13292200
Portage13251215
Allen11913239
Richland11605211
Miami10849225
Wayne9141223
Columbiana9032230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8663122
Tuscarawas8649250
Marion8642138
Erie8056165
Ashtabula7160179
Hancock6998132
Ross6944161
Geauga6838151
Scioto6534106
Belmont6157174
Union584549
Lawrence5731102
Jefferson5678158
Huron5546122
Sandusky5442126
Darke5420129
Seneca5348128
Washington5319109
Athens523960
Auglaize502187
Mercer487385
Shelby476895
Knox4571112
Madison444266
Ashland435797
Putnam4336103
Defiance432399
Fulton432074
Crawford4037110
Brown402461
Logan387677
Preble3855105
Clinton379166
Ottawa373681
Highland359665
Williams348278
Champaign344759
Guernsey324953
Jackson318254
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin275265
Henry273467
Holmes2701101
Coshocton269060
Van Wert247264
Adams243256
Pike242835
Gallia240650
Wyandot234556
Hocking220563
Carroll197348
Paulding176542
Meigs148440
Monroe136344
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85517
Unassigned03
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