Pelosi: No prospect GOP Congress will end child separations

Pelosi: No prospect GOP Congress will end child separations
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she sees no chance that the GOP Congress would pass legislation to end the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Pelosi said she doesn’t think Republicans can pass any immigration legislation on their own given their bitter divisions on the issue, and she also said that if the Trump administration wanted to end the policy, it could on its own.

“I don’t see any prospect for legislation here,” Pelosi said.

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Her comments came just moments after Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class Former House candidate and ex-ironworker says there is 'buyer's remorse' for Trump in Midwest Head of top hedge fund association to step down MORE (R-Wis.), appearing at the same podium in the Capitol basement, suggested that Congress should step in to end the policy.

“We believe it should be addressed in immigration legislation,” Ryan told reporters.

He said he opposes the practice of separating children from their parents at the border, but stopped short of blaming the administration for adopting it.

Instead, he blamed the policy on a court decision, and suggested Congress should step in to end it.

“What’s happening at the border with the separation of their parents and their children is because of a court ruling, and so that’s why I think legislation is necessary.”

Pelosi accused Ryan of being insincere in his claim to want to end the separation policy. If he were, she charged, he could bring legislation to the floor by a fast-track process — known as suspension rules — almost immediately. 

“What do we do here? We do nothing,” she said. “This could have been something taken up under suspension in a minute, if there was a real sincere effort to do it.”

Pelosi also rejected the idea that Congress needs to intervene at all, arguing that the Justice Department, which adopted the change last month, could go back to its old, more humanitarian policy at any time. 

“It’s executive action by the attorney general. It can be changed just like that,” she said, snapping her fingers. 

The issue of family separations was thrust into the spotlight last month, when Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump says 'people will not stand' for Mueller report Jeff Sessions returns to Justice Department to retrieve Cabinet chair Rosenstein still working at DOJ despite plans to leave in mid-March MORE announced a “zero tolerance” policy promoting criminal charges against adults attempting to cross the border illegally, even for the first time. Previous administrations have been more lenient, largely reserving criminal charges for repeat offenders and other more serious cases.

Parents traveling with children are separated from their kids while the charges are processed — a policy designed to deter would-be migrants from making the trip.

Democrats have rejected that argument, saying that many of the migrant families are fleeing brutal conditions in Central America, one of the most violent regions in the world.

“One of their ways not to separate the children is not to let them even seek asylum, which is a right that people have in the world. … So that is not a solution. The solution is not to tear children from their parents,” Pelosi said.

“This is not normal. In fact it’s barbaric. It has to stop.”

The back-and-forth arrives as Ryan is promising votes next week on a pair of Republican immigration bills designed to strengthen enforcement and provide legal protections, in some form, to the so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. 

There are strong doubts that either bill can pass, since the Democrats are expected to oppose both measures over enforcement concerns and the Republicans are divided over how to approach the thorny issues of citizenship rights and a border wall. And Ryan on Thursday suggested that the real goal of next week’s votes is not to pass Dreamer legislation, even through the House, but simply to allow the different factions to take a formal immigration vote heading into November’s midterms.

“We won't guarantee passage,” Ryan said. “But we want to give members their ability to express their positions.”

Ryan and GOP leaders may be tempted to attach a child-separation provision to the more moderate of the two Dreamer bills, which is still being drafted, in order to put the Democrats in the difficult position of opposing an effort to end the policy.

Pelosi seemed to be anticipating such a gambit from the Republicans, warning that the Democrats will oppose a “concoction that really doesn’t address the immorality of our lack of asylum.”

“The administration … can stop it on a dime,” she said. 

“I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country,” Pelosi added. “And maybe there will be when people realize that this is a policy that they defend.”