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Republicans break from Trump on migrant family separation

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: A border patrol agent with immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen
A border patrol agent talks with immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the United States in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas on April 2, 2018.Loren Elliott / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — The lowest points of Donald Trump’s presidency have tended to occur when a sizable portion of his own party has criticized him for his actions, policies and statements (even when the GOP doesn’t necessarily act on that criticism). Think Trump’s initial travel ban, the furor over Charlottesville, the Comey firing, the pardon of Joe Arpaio and the health care debate of 2017.

And Trump’s slight bump in his approval rating has coincided with a lack of intense GOP disagreement with Trump. Our June NBC/WSJ poll found the president’s job rating increasing to 44 percent among registered voters due in large part to his better numbers among Republicans and rural voters.

But is that about to change with fellow Republicans and conservatives increasingly criticizing — in varying degrees — the Trump policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border?

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine: “What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that, if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she told CBS yesterday. “That is traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country."
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: "President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call," he said on CNN. "I'll go tell him: If you don't like families being separated, you can tell DHS, 'Stop doing it.'"
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan: “We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents,” he said on Thursday.
  • Former first lady Laura Bush: “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” she writes in the Washington Post. “These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”
  • Evangelical leader Franklin Graham: "It's disgraceful, and it's terrible to see families ripped apart and I don't support that one bit,” he told theChristian Broadcasting Network.
  • The conservative New York Post: “Stop breaking up families at the border.”

Yes, these GOP and conservative voices haven’t exactly acted on their criticism — Ryan says that fixing the Trump policy of separating migrant children from their families will “require legislative change” (which isn’t true; Graham correctly says Trump could stop it with a single phone call) — but the criticism still matters.

Especially less than five months before the upcoming midterm elections.

The Trump administration is divided over how to talk about the policy — and whether it even exists

What’s also noteworthy about Trump’s border policy is how divided the Trump administration is when TALKING about it. As NBC’s Benjy Sarlin points out, you have one faction (Trump) falsely blaming Democrats for the policy; you have another faction (DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen) denying that the Trump administration is separating families; and you have another faction proudly touting the policy (Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House adviser Stephen Miller).

Sarlin writes, “It’s almost impossible to even debate the policy in this circumstance. If one side says it’s a deterrent, one side says it’s an unavoidable accident, and a third says it’s technically not happening, and they’re all the same side, there’s no way to actually discuss the merits.”

Kellyanne Conway: “Nobody likes” policy separating migrant kids at the border

"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,” one of us wrote yesterday.

“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.”

Metal wire, mylar blankets: Inside America’s largest immigration processing center

NBC’s Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley: “Hundreds of young migrants are being kept behind metal wire — the type you’d see on a neighborhood batting cage or a dog kennel — inside the country’s largest immigration processing center. A Department of Homeland Security official called the facility, known as Ursula, the ‘epicenter’ of the Trump administration’s policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents.”

More: “Cameras were not permitted on the Father's Day tour, but the Border Patrol provided handout images of the stark situation: 1,129 migrants were detained in the 77,000-square-foot facility, nearly all of them behind the metal wire. Mylar blankets, the type marathon runners wrap themselves in after finishing a race, covered the bodies of migrants throughout as they lay on mattresses atop concrete floors. In the 55,000-square-feet of the facility dedicated to families and unaccompanied minors, detainees were sorted based on age, gender, and family status into what the Border Patrol called four pods: one for girls aged 17-and-under, another for boys 17-and-under, mothers with children and fathers with children.”

Mark Sanford: “Maybe the reason I’m so outspoken on this now is there is no seeming consequence to the president and lies”

Also on “Meet the Press” yesterday, one of us interviewed Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who lost his GOP primary last week:

SANFORD: We all know the story of 2009 and my implosion.TODD: Yes.SANFORD: A lie was told on my half — behalf, which means I own it. More to the point, I was living a lie in that chapter of life.TODD: Yes.SANFORD: But there were incredible consequences.TODD: Yes, there were.SANFORD: Financially, politically, socially, I lost my — I can go down a long list. A long list.TODD: You paid a price...SANFORD: And so maybe the reason I'm so outspoken on this now is there is no seeming consequence to the president and lies. And if we accept that as a society, it is going to have incredibly harmful consequences in the way that we operate going forward, based on the construct of the Founding Fathers.

Fact-checking Trump’s Friday morning press scrum

Speaking of Trump and his relationship with the truth, here is our fact-check on at least SIX misleading or flat-out false statements that he made to White House reporters on Friday:

1. Trump claim: “There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. The IG report went a long way to show that. And I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.”

The facts: The IG report was about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email probe, so it made no judgments whatsoever about facts in the Russia probe. Now the IG report did expose anti-Trump text messages from a key FBI official working in both the Clinton and Russia probes — Peter Strzok — and Trump here is probably arguing that the Russia probe is tainted by those opinions. But note: Strzok was removed from the Mueller probe in the summer of 2017.

2. Trump claim: “[Kim Jong Un] gave us the remains of our great heroes. I have had so many people begging me, parents and fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, wherever I went, could you please get the remains of my boy back?”

The facts: The Korean War took place from 1950 to 1953. A mother or father asking Trump to get the remains of their deceased son from the Korean War would have to be WELL OVER 100 years old.

3. Trump claim: “Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. I feel a little badly about it ... You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for many other he worked for me, what, 49 days or something. Very short period of time.”

The facts: Manafort, who served as the campaign’s chairman, was hired on March 28, 2016 to lead the campaign’s delegate effort (in preparing for a potential convention floor flight), and Manafort resigned from the campaign on Aug. 19, 2016 — that’s 144 days.

By contrast, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway worked 84 days on the Trump campaign.

4. Trump claim: “I feel badly for General [Michael] Flynn. He lost his house. He's lost his life. And some people say he lied. And some people say he didn't lie. I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn't lie.”

The facts: Trump himself said that he fired Flynn because he lied. “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” Trump tweeted on Dec. 2, 2017.

5 . Trump claim: “The Democrats have to change their law. That's their law ... The Democrats forced that law upon our nation. I hate it. I hate to see separation of parents and children.”

The facts: Separating migrant families is a POLICY that the Trump administration announced. "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." And in an NPR interview, White House chief of staff John Kelly defending the policy, saying it was a “tough deterrent” against illegal immigration.

6. Trump claim: “No, no, President Obama lost Crimea, just so you understand. I want to make it so the fake news prints it properly. President Obama lost Crimea. Wait, wait. That's his fault, yes, yes, it's his fault, it's his fault. President — just so you — because Putin didn't respect President Obama. President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn't respect President Obama.

The facts: Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 — first by sending special forces into Ukraine, followed by a regional referendum when Crimea was under Russia control.