President Trump met with House Republicans Tuesday to discuss immigration legislation as lawmakers searched for a way to end the administration’s policy of separating families who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
After the meeting broke up, the White House announced that Trump had endorsed legislation negotiated between GOP leaders and moderate Republicans that promises to “solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal.”
A person in the room told Fox News that Trump also endorsed an immigration bill authored by conservative Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., but that measure is not expected to pass the House.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said that Trump told lawmakers he was “with you 100” percent, but one senior House Republican told Fox News that Trump’s pitch for the so-called “compromise” bill was “underwhelming” and was unlikely to persuade members to get behind it.
Trump was uncharacteristically reticent as he entered and left the meeting, giving only brief remarks to reporters as he arrived at the Capitol: “The system has been broken for many years. The immigration system, it’s been a really bad, bad system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. We’re going to try and see if we can fix it.”
As the meeting broke up, Trump walked by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus holding signs saying “Families belong together.”
“Mr. President, don’t you have kids?” they yelled as Trump walked away. “Don’t you have kids, Mr. President? It’s not the America we know and it’s not biblical,” referencing past remarks by Attorney General Jeff Sessions defending the policy as part of settled U.S. law.
As he left the Capitol, Trump told reporters that he and lawmakers “had a great meeting.”
“These are laws that have been broken for many years — decades,” Trump said, “but we had a great meeting.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told Fox News’ “Special Report” that the issue of separated families had come up “a couple of times” during the meeting.
“The president was very compassionate about it,” said Meadows, who added that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, had pressed him on the matter. “It’s not lost on him that we’ve got to fix this, but at the same time … I think the pressure is on us from the American people to get it done this week and I believe we will.”
“The president wants this practice to end,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., told Fox News. “I know that the executive branch has the power to end these separations and they should at least while Congress is trying to find a permanent solution, but he also said that he doesn’t like those images and that we need to find a way legislatively to end this.”
House Republicans have revised the compromise bill to include a provision loosening rules that now limit the amount of time minors can be held to 20 days. Under the legislation, children could be detained with their parents for extended periods.
The revised provision also would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to use $7 billion in border technology funding to pay for family detention centers, said a House Republican source.
A person in the room told Fox News that Trump endorsed several provisions that are only in the compromise bill, including advanced appropriations for his long-promised border wall.
“It’s humane. It’s smart. It’s inexpensive,” Trump told lawmakers, according to the person. “We are going to get this done. I’m with you. I love you people.”
In the Senate, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas has proposed legislation that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their deportation proceedings.
Cruz’s bill would double the number of federal immigration judges, authorize new temporary shelters to house migrant families and limit the processing of asylum cases to no more than 14 days — a goal immigrant advocates say would be difficult to meet.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters he was reaching out to Democrats for bipartisan backing, since the proposal would need to reach a 60-vote threshold to advance in that chamber.
But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York signaled that no such support would be coming, saying it already was in Trump’s power to keep the families together.
“There’s no need for legislation. There’s no need for anything else. You can do it. Mr. President you started it, you can stop it.”
Under the administration’s current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.
More than 2,300 minors were separated from their children at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Fox News’ Bret Baier, Chad Pergram, Peter Doocy, Kelly Chernenkoff, Jason Donner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.