WASHINGTON — Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Sunday that "nobody likes" the separation of migrant children from their parents at the nation's southern border but took issue with the idea that the Trump administration is using the children to force Democrats to the table on border security.
"As a mother, as a Catholic, as somebody who has a conscience ... I will tell you that nobody likes this policy," Conway said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.
But Conway also repeated President Donald Trump's assertion that the burden is on Democrats to end the separations — while also rejecting the idea that the White House is using the public outcry over the separations as a way to exert leverage over Democrats resistant to Trump's most stringent proposed overhauls to the immigration system.
"I certainly don't want anybody to use these kids as leverage," she said, adding that she objects "very forcefully" to that implication.
That implication is one that White House officials themselves have reportedly confirmed. "The president has told folks that in lieu of the laws being fixed, he wants to use the enforcement mechanisms that we have,” an unnamed White House official told the Washington Post this week. “The thinking in the building is to force people to the table.”
Conway suggested that that unnamed official should come forward.
"I want that person to say it to my face, I really do," she said. "I'll meet them at the White House today because I think that is a disgrace."
Still, Conway — as the president has — put the burden squarely on congressional Democrats to address broad immigration reforms in order to solve the larger crisis at the border.
"If the Democrats are serious, and if a lot of Republicans are serious, they'll come together. They won't just talk about just this week, just the Dreamers, or just the wall, or just catch and release. It's all of the above," Conway said.
Separating migrant families is a policy announced by the Trump administration this spring, and the White House has not identified any law that specifically requires it. "If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in May. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."
Conway indicated some agreement with the idea that many migrants are using their children as bargaining chips in their efforts to enter the U.S. illegally.
"Nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers' arms, from their mothers' wombs, frankly, but we have to make sure that DHS' laws are understood through the soundbite culture that we live in," Conway said, adding that "some adults are using children to gain access to the border."
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who also joined "Meet the Press" Sunday, called the separation policy flatly "immoral."
"What the administration is doing is they're using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build their wall," he said. "And it's an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress. It's, I think, deeply unethical."