But now President Trump and the White House are putting a new spin on the policy: It’s all the Democrats’ fault.
Over the weekend, Trump called on his followers to “put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from their parents,” then added that “we MUST continue building the WALL!” Yesterday the White House emailed out a statement blaming Democrats’ “open borders policies,” claiming they “lead to the temporary separation of illegal alien families” and “spread human suffering.”
What’s notable about this new spin — that Democrats are to blame for the policy change — isn’t just that it’s flatly false on its face. It’s also that, by making this claim, Trump and the White House are basically admitting that their own policy is a moral abomination.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May that the administration would begin federally prosecuting all people who cross the border illegally, including asylum seekers, he flatly stated that this would result in children getting “separated” from their parents. Subsequently, White House chief of staff John Kelly explicitly described this as a “tough deterrent” to families crossing, though he denied this was heartless, claiming that the children will be put into “foster care or whatever.”
There is some confusion out there about the new policy. First, these children are entirely separate from the 1,500 or so children whose whereabouts the government has lost track of; those are children who crossed themselves, not with family members.
Second, the true nature of Sessions’s policy change is getting obscured. The shift here is that under Sessions, the Justice Department is prosecuting far more families for crossing the border, including asylum seekers, than previously. It is that change that is resulting in families getting separated, because that already has to happen once the parents are being prosecuted and jailed. The change is not that a new rule has been created to separate families. Thus, the administration is deliberately prosecuting more families in the full knowledge that it will mean more parents separated from children, and it is explicitly citing that fact to enhance its deterrent factor.
Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing to block the change, does not contest for now the constitutionality of Sessions’s decision to prosecute as many border-crossers as possible. (The ACLU separately argues that those seeking asylum should not be prosecuted, but it isn’t making that argument in this lawsuit.) Nor does the ACLU contest that when parents are prosecuted, they are going to be separated from their children for a very short period, while they are jailed before they are turned over to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement pending their asylum hearing.
Rather, the ACLU is claiming that the administration is not reuniting parents and children for long after they are initially separated. Once the parents are released from prison and turned over to ICE, the ACLU says, the government should return the children to them at that point, but are not.
It is hard to know how many parents and children have been separated for long periods of time; it is likely the government will come under extreme pressure to provide a more specific accounting. But advocates told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that they are seeing lengthy separations to a far greater extent than under any previous administration.
“If they were just separated for two days, that would be bad, but it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as what we’re seeing now,” Lee Gelernt, the lead ACLU lawyer on this case, tells me. “The longer separation is the real perceived deterrent in the administration’s view.”
Absurd new spin
This gets at the heart of why the administration’s new spin is so absurd. Its argument is that that these separations have a positive justification, in that they supposedly deter families from crossing the border. But obviously, it is precisely the fact that such separations are awful that would make it a deterrent in the first place. This is why the administration is ramping up the prosecutions — to produce more separations, creating that deterrent. Many of these people are fleeing violence and other horrific conditions at home. So any deterrent to that would have to be deliberately awful.
When Trump and officials claim that you should blame Democrats if you think these separations are inhumane, they are basically conceding the game here. What is actually driving the change is that Trump and administration officials don’t want high numbers of people to be crossing the border to apply for asylum at all, no matter what they are fleeing. When they demand Democratic help in minimizing those crossings, it shows that for them, the very fact that so many people can cross the border in search of asylum in the first place is the real problem here.
* ON ‘DEEP STATE,’ TRUMP FOLLOWED CONSERVATIVE MEDIA: The New York Times reports that Trump’s latest lies about the FBI informant follow a pattern of bringing conspiracy theories to the Oval Office. And there’s this:
Former aides to the president … said paranoia predisposed him to believe in nefarious, hidden forces driving events. But they also said political opportunism informed his promotion of conspiracy theories. … two former aides said Mr. Trump had resisted using the term “deep state” for months, partly because he believed it made him look too much like a crank. But Mr. Trump saw that it played well in the conservative news media, and so in November, he began using it, the two aides said.
It’s another sign that #Foxlandia may yet be able to succeed in goading Trump into going full authoritarian against the Mueller probe.
* TRUMP IS SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE WHO ‘BELIEVE IN HIM’: The Post reports on what all the turnover inside the White House has really wrought:
Trump has brought in a handful of senior people who believe in him personally, are temperamentally in sync with the brash boss and are invested in his political success more than some of his first-year aides were. … The senior staff members of Trump’s Year 2 … focus on trying to curb his most outlandish impulses while generally executing his vision and managing whatever fallout may follow.
I think this really means that the “grown-ups” totally failed, and now we’re at the mercy of Trump’s “gut.”
* YOUNG VETERANS SHAPE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The Times looks at three young Democrat leaders — Jason Kander, Rep. Seth Moulton and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — who are putting their stamps on the party:
How far any of the three veterans go in politics will be another test of the power of generational change, which propelled John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Bill Clinton in 1992. Millennials have now passed baby boomers as the nation’s largest bloc of voters, but they have few representatives in government.
A number of Democratic House candidates this cycle are both veterans and millennials, suggesting that the last two GOP presidencies are pushing this generation into the Democratic Party.
* LOTS OF MILLENNIALS ARE RUNNING AS DEMOCRATS: Politico reports on another aspect to that trend:
A swell of young Democratic House candidates [is] hoping to inspire higher turnout among fellow millennials in the midterm elections, when youth voting rates typically decline. At least 20 millennial Democratic candidates are running in battleground districts, a leap over previous cycles that could remake the party’s generational divide.
If Democrats can get younger voters out at higher rates than is typical in midterms, that will go a long way toward breaking their midterm curse.
* SINGLE PAYER IS ASCENDANT AMONG DEMOCRATS: Axios’ Caitlin Owens reports that numerous winners of Democratic House primaries support single-payer health care. And there’s this:
Most of Democrats’ leading 2020 prospects have endorsed some form of single-payer. With single-payer allies on the ballot, some of these midterm races will turn into smaller referendums on whether it’s a winning issue not just among Democrats, but also swing voters.
It will be interesting to see how these Democratic candidates try to sell single payer to swing voters, which pundits will, of course, say is “too far to the left” to prevail.
* TRUMP ‘CAN BE BRIBED’: Paul Krugman notes that Trump is trying to lift prohibitions on trade by Chinese electronics company ZTE, even though it broke rules on trading with sanctioned countries, making this a national security issue:
There is a reason we want our presidents to divest from their business interests (which Trump refused to do). It avoids situations such as this one, preserving public confidence in his motives.
* AND TRUMP’S GOLFING OUTPACES OBAMA’S: Trump blasted President Barack Obama for playing too much golf, but ABC News tallies up their golfing and finds:
Trump’s trips to a golf course have topped 102 through his first 493 days in office … Sunday, June 3 marks Trump’s 500th day in office. At this stage of his presidency, Obama had completed 37 rounds of golf.
Why, it’s almost as if Trump’s efforts to portray Obama as lazy had nothing to do with his actual work ethic and had some other hidden intention.