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Trump Firm on Immigration Policy       06/20 06:17

   Calling the shots as his West Wing clears out, President Donald Trump sees 
his hard-line immigration stance as a winning issue heading into a midterm 
election he views as a referendum on his protectionist policies.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Calling the shots as his West Wing clears out, President 
Donald Trump sees his hard-line immigration stance as a winning issue heading 
into a midterm election he views as a referendum on his protectionist policies.

   "You have to stand for something," Trump declared Tuesday, as he defended 
his administration's immigration policy amid mounting criticism over the forced 
separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The chorus 
of condemnation includes Democrats, as well as Republicans, who are 
increasingly worried that reports about bereft children taken from their 
parents could damage the GOP's chances in November.

   Still, Trump believes that his immigration pledges helped win him the 
presidency and that his most loyal supporters want him to follow through. He 
made a rare trip to Capitol Hill late Tuesday to meet with GOP legislators and 
endorse a pair of bills that would keep detained families together, among other 
changes, but he remains confident that projecting toughness on immigration is 
the right call, said five White House officials and outside advisers who spoke 
on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

   "It's amazing how people are surprised that he's keeping the promises he 
made on the campaign trail now," said Trump political adviser Bill Stepien.

   While the White House signaled Trump may be open to a narrow fix to deal 
with the problem, the president spent the day stressing immigration policies 
that he has championed throughout his surprise political career. He has 
resisted calls to reverse the separation policy, saying any change must come 
through Congress.

   In a speech to a business group earlier Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to see 
legislation deal with family separation, which, he said, "We don't want." He 
also emphasized border security and again made the false argument that 
Democrats are to blame for the family separation problem. Said Trump: 
"Politically correct or not, we have a country that needs security, that needs 
safety, that has to be protected."

   Several White House aides, led by adviser Stephen Miller, have encouraged 
the president to make immigration a defining issue for the midterms. And Trump 
has told advisers he believes he looks strong on the matter, suggesting that it 
could be a winning culture war issue much like his attacks on NFL players who 
take a knee for the national anthem.

   Former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon said the president is emphasizing 
the policies that brought him to the White House.

   "I think this is one of his best moments. I think this is a profile in 
courage. This is why America elected him," Bannon said. "This is not doubling 
down, it is tripling down."

   Still, Trump, a voracious watcher of cable news who is especially attuned to 
the power of images, appeared to acknowledge later Tuesday that the optics 
could be doing damage.

   During his closed-door meeting with lawmakers on the Hill, Trump said his 
daughter Ivanka had encouraged him to find a way to end the practice, and he 
said separating families at the border "looked bad," according to several 
attendees.

   "He said, 'Politically, this is bad,'" said Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas. "It's 
not about the politics. This is the right thing to do."

   Trump's immigration standoff comes as he escalates his nationalist trade 
moves, imposing new tariffs on imports and threating more. With few powerful 
opposing voices remaining in the West Wing, Trump is increasingly making these 
decisions solo. Some key advisers have left, and chief of staff John Kelly 
appears sidelined.

   Republicans, particularly those in more moderate districts, are worried they 
will be damaged by the searing images of children held in cages at border 
facilities, as well as by audio recordings of young children crying for their 
parents. The House Republicans' national campaign chairman, Ohio Rep. Steve 
Stivers, said Monday that he's asking "the administration to stop needlessly 
separating children from their parents."

   Other conservatives also raised concerns, but many called for Congress to 
make changes instead of asking Trump to directly intervene. Ralph Reed, 
chairman of the Faith & Freedom coalition of evangelical voters, added to the 
drumbeat to end the child separation policy Tuesday, calling on Congress to 
pass legislation that would end the process as part of a broader immigration 
overhaul.

   But asked if the border policy was bad for Trump politically, Reed suggested 
core supporters remain on the president's side. He said the group's members are 
"more than willing to give the president and his administration the benefit of 
the doubt that this is being driven by a spike in people crossing the border, a 
combination of existing law and court decisions require this separation, and 
the fact that the Democrats refused to work with the administration to increase 
judges so that this can be dealt with more expeditiously." Trump on Tuesday 
mocked the idea of hiring thousands of new judges, asking, "Can you imagine the 
graft that must take place?"

   Worried that the lack of progress on his signature border wall will make him 
look "soft," according to one adviser, Trump has unleashed a series of tweets 
playing up the dangers posed by members of the MS-13 gang --- which make up a 
minuscule percentage of those who cross the border. He used the loaded term 
"infest" to reference the influx of immigrants entering the country illegally.

   As the immigration story becomes a national flashpoint, Trump has been 
watching the TV coverage with increasing anger, telling confidants he believes 
media outlets are deliberately highlighting the worst images --- the cages and 
screaming toddlers --- to make him look bad.

   The president has long complained about his treatment by the media, but his 
frustrations reached a boiling point after he returned from his Singapore 
summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un to face news reports questioning his 
negotiating skills. He complained to one adviser that the media had not given 
him enough credit after the summit and was continuing to undermine him on 
immigration, according to a person familiar with the conversation but not 
authorized to speak publicly.

   On Tuesday, Trump argued that sticking by his policies was a winning 
political strategy as he took a fresh shot at Democrats.

   "They can't win on their policies, which are horrible," he said. "They found 
that out in the last presidential election."


(KA)

 
 
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