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Trump says separation isn't his policy. Here are all the times his team said it was.

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.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: Trump participates in tour of U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes in San Diego, California
President Donald Trump tours U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego on March 13.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

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WASHINGTON — On Monday, President Donald Trump blamed Democrats for the separation of migrant children from their families.

“If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstructing we could have something done very quickly. Good for the children, good for the country, good for the world, it could take place quickly,” he said.

Hours later, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied that the separation policy was meant to deter undocumented immigrants from crossing the border. “Congress is asking those of us who enforce the law to turn our backs on the law and not enforce the law,” she said in defending the separation practice. “It's not an answer. The answer is to fix the laws.”

But here are all of the times we found when the Trump administration said this was THEIR policy and that it was meant to DETER undocumented immigrants.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy.”

“I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” (Speech in San Diego, California, May 7, 2018)

White House chief of staff John Kelly: “It could be a tough deterrent.”

NPR: Family separation stands as a pretty tough deterrent.

Kelly: It could be a tough deterrent — would be a tough deterrent. A much faster turnaround on asylum seekers.

NPR: Even though people say that's cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children?

Kelly: I wouldn't put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long. (NPR interview, May 11, 2018)

Kelly: “Yes, I am considering it in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.”

CNN: Are Department of Homeland Security personnel going to separate the children from their moms and dads?

Kelly: We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors. We have turned them over to HHS and they do a very, very good job of putting them in kind of foster care or linking them up with parents or with family members in the United States. Yes, I am considering it in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents. (CNN interview, March 6, 2017)

White House aide Stephen Miller: “The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

“‘It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.’ ... Privately, Mr. Miller argued that bringing back ‘zero tolerance’ would be a potent tool in a severely limited arsenal of strategies for stopping migrants from flooding across the border.” (New York Times, June 16, 2018)

Sessions: “Hopefully people will get the message … and not break across the border unlawfully.”

Fox News: Are you trying to deter people from bringing children or minors across this dangerous journey? Is that part of what this operation is about?

Sessions: Fundamentally, we are enforcing the law…

Fox News: Are you considering this a deterrent?

Sessions: … Yes, hopefully people will get the message and come through the border at the port of entry and not break across the border unlawfully. (Fox News interview, June 18, 2018)

Polls: Two-thirds of Americans and voters oppose the Trump administration’s separation policy

If you’re a politician who wants to see tougher border, you should be angry right now at Trump, because he’s making that a harder reality.

On Monday, a CNN poll found 67 percent of Americans disapprove of the Trump administration’s policy to separate migrant children from their families, with 28 percent approving (including 58 percent of Republican respondents).

Those numbers were nearly identical to a Quinnipiac survey, also released Monday, showing 66 percent of U.S. voters opposing the policy (and 55 percent of GOP voters supporting it).

This reminds us a bit of the gay-marriage debate: Ten or 15 years ago, you could have said that you support gay people, but you just don’t want to see them marry. But once marriage turned into the litmus test, that same person didn’t want to be one the side of the “haters.”

Are we seeing this play out in the immigration debate, with the well-being of migrant families turning into the litmus test in the immigration debate? We’ll find out when Trump is set to speak to House Republicans on immigration today at 5:40 p.m. ET, and when the House is likely to vote on immigration legislation Thursday.

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp: “The president is traveling to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to address House Republicans about their attempt to solve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, program, but the separation of families is likely to take center stage, especially as many lawmakers continue to hear from constituents overwhelmingly opposed to the policy. Still, the numerous solutions that have been floated have gained little consensus, with Republicans and Democrats at odds on the details. And members of both parties are frustrated and angry that the president has put them in the position of fixing a problem that he could already solve.”

By the way, who’s leading the charge to pass legislation in the Senate to keep undocumented immigrant families together? Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — suggesting this Trump policy isn’t playing all that well in Texas.

NYT: Trump’s immigration comments aren’t “making it any easier” for America’s European partners

And Trump’s views on immigration aren’t just upending American politics — they’re also roiling Europe’s. The New York Times: “With a rift over migrants bringing German politics to a boil, the country’s feuding leaders scraped together a truce Monday on an issue that threatens to topple the fragile government. Then President Trump stepped in. ‘The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition,’ Mr. Trump said on Twitter, before falsely claiming that crime in Germany had risen because of immigration.”

“The migrant issue is a political wildfire in Europe. It has breathed new life into populist movements from Hungary to Austria to Italy. In Italy, the newly formed government coalition rose to power in part by drawing on anger about migration. It introduced its immigration policy last week by turning away a boat carrying more than 600 migrants from Africa. These forces are making it harder for European centrists to hold onto power — and as his comments made clear Monday, Mr. Trump is not making it any easier for the United States’ longtime partners.”

Just compare the last thing Trump tweeted about Germany (“The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up”) with the last thing he tweeted about North Korea (“The denuclearization deal with North Korea is being praised and celebrated all over Asia. They are so happy!”).

McClatchy: Russian buyers made 86 all-cash sales — totaling $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties

McClatchy: “Buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in south Florida and New York City, according to a new analysis shared with McClatchy. Many of them made purchases using shell companies designed to obscure their identities.”

Dems are outspending Republicans over the airwaves in the key Senate contests, but there’s one big exception (Florida)

With just one big exception — Florida — Democrats are outspending Republicans over the airwaves (TV and radio) in the most competitive Senate contests, per data from Advertising Analytics. The dollar amounts below are through June 18, 2018.

Arizona

Dem: $3.5 million ($2.6 million by Krysten Sinema's campaign)

GOP: $639,000 ($369,000 by One Nation)

Florida

Dem: $3.1 million ($2.3 million by Senate Majority PAC)

GOP: $17.2 million ($11 million by Rick Scott's campaign)

Indiana (since May 8 primary)

Dem: $2.0 million ($1.5 million by Senate Majority PAC)

GOP: $1.4 million ($770,000 by One Nation)

Missouri

Dem: $7.5 million ($4 million by Senate Majority PAC)

GOP: $4.3 million ($2.4 million by Americans for Prosperity)

Nevada

Dem: $2.7 million ($1.7 million by Jacky Rosen's campaign)

GOP: $1.0 million ($575,000 by American Chemistry Council)

North Dakota

Dem: $1.0 million ($330,000 by Heitkamp)

GOP: $938,000 ($422,000 by Americans for Prosperity)

Ohio (since May 8 primary)

Dem: $2.2 million (all by Sherrod Brown's campaign)

GOP: $332,000 (all by Jim Renacci's campaign)

Tennessee

Dem: $2.0 million (all by Phil Bredesen's campaign)

GOP: $18,000 ($15,000 by Marsha Blackburn's campaign)

West Virginia

Dem: $1.3 million ($758,000 by Senate Majority PAC)

GOP: $562,000 ($462,000 by One Nation)

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