WASHINGTON — Democrats are furious, Republicans are nervous and nobody at the U.S. Capitol seems to have any idea how — or if — the federal government will resolve a humanitarian and public relations crisis on the Texas-Mexico border.
For days, photos of detained immigrant children have streamed out of South and West Texas, upending the workflow in Washington in a way not seen since the travel ban early in the Trump administration. Despite growing Republican criticism out of the Senate — including from Texas’ two GOP senators — White House officials have dug in on their policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.
“The answer to this current situation is a solution that allows us to both enforce the law and keep families together,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
He said he agreed with former first lady Laura Bush that there should be “a better answer.” Bush is among a chorus of voices of criticizing the policy — a group that includes the other living first ladies. Cornyn has said in recent days that he intends to introduce legislation that will keep families together and expedite hearings.
On Monday evening, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced he would introduce emergency legislation that would marshal more resources to the border to expedite the legal process for immigrants seeking asylum and to create facilities that would allow parents to stay with their children. On Tuesday, he confirmed a report from The Washington Post that he was working together with Cornyn on a bill that could be filed later in the day.
Asked about working with Cruz on the legislation, Cornyn said the bill Cruz has been working seems to contain the elements “of a consensus approach” and said he aims to work with Democrats on a bipartisan solution.
Immigration is poised to dominate congressional action this week, as the House is set to pick up two Republican pieces of related legislation on Thursday. Those bills — both of which face uphill battles in the House and the Senate — will address Trump’s long-sought border wall and what to do with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era immigration measure that protects hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The controversy over the family separation policy has fully consumed regular business at the Capitol.
The outcry is so widespread on Capitol Hill that it worked its way into a high-profile Tuesday morning committee hearing on the FBI’s actions in the 2016 Clinton email investigation. Two House Democrats veered off topic during the hearing to decry the policy, as Republicans grumbled “Out of Order!”
The images of crying children at the border are beginning to spook Republican political consultants, who fear they could impact the GOP’s chances of holding the chamber after this fall’s midterm election. At the same time, it was only one week ago that U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina, lost his primary. President Donald Trump specifically targeted him for past critical comments, and reinforced the fears many Texas Republicans and their advisers of crossing the president.
U.S. House members will return to the U.S. Capitol for a Tuesday evening session. The calls against Trump from that chamber are largely muted, and when reached out to by the Texas Tribune, most Texas Republicans avoided commenting on the matter.
House Republicans are scheduled to meet with the president late Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol.
Claire Parker contributed to this report.