Virginia Republican Senate nominee Corey Stewart on Monday stumbled over a question about what mandated the separation of children and parents at the southern border.

In an interview with Hill.TV’s “Rising,” Stewart, who is squaring off with incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in November, blamed Democrats for a law that required family separations at the border.

President Trump also repeatedly blamed Democrats for the issue, but it was his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which expedited the prosecution of people caught crossing the border illegally, that led to families being separated. Under pressure, Trump signed an executive order last week to would keep families together through the detention process.

“I think that it was an unnecessary requirement based upon the law that the Democrats passed that required the separation,” Stewart said.

When pressed by “Rising” co-host Krystal Ball on what law required separations, Stewart stumbled over his answer that it was a law required by the Department of Health and Human Services “to take care of the children” while border agents arrest and incarcerate the parents.

When asked if he was referring to the Flores settlement, a 1997 consent decree that doesn’t allow the government to keep children detained for more than 20 days, Stewart attempted to recover, pointing to the president “actually enforcing the law at the border.”

“What I’m talking about is the existing federal law which the president has now been able to set aside which now allows the children to stay with their parents,” Stewart said. “The most important thing you have is a president who’s actually enforcing the law at the border.”

“That was absolutely necessary to prevent an even bigger humanitarian crisis.”

Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, has been a fervent supporter of Trump. He’s also been an outspoken defender of Confederate monuments.

Earlier this month, Stewart eked out a slim primary victory over a more moderate GOP candidate, state Del. Nick Freitas. Stewart faces Kaine in the general election, and the incumbent senator is heavily favored in the blue-leaning state.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won Virginia by more than 5 points in 2016 — a larger margin of victory than former President Obama — and a recent poll from Roanoke College found Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, ahead of Stewart by 11 points.

— Lisa Hagen

Featured clips