Republican senators in Congress really wanted to talk about budget cuts on Tuesday. But members of the media wanted to talk about something else: family separation at the border.
During a Senate press conference, a group of GOP senators, including Sens. Ted Cruz (TX) and Mike Lee (UT), touted the $15 billion in “wasteful” spending they want to trim from the federal budget as part of the Spending Cuts to Expired and Unnecessary Programs Act. But as soon as the lawmakers began to take questions from journalists, the conversation shifted to the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.
“Do you think that we should put a pause on this policy until we figure this out?” one journalist asked the group.
Cruz and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson defended the new policy of prosecuting all unauthorized border crossers but conceded that families should be kept together.
“All of us are horrified by the images we’ve seen,” Cruz said.
The group of senators were bombarded with more questions about family separation, until Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) stepped in to end the line of questioning. He admonished the journalists for focusing on the wrong story and suggested that family separation at the border is not a crisis.
“I apologize, guys, we came here to talk about a crisis,” he said, visibly agitated. “Your job is to inform the American people, our job is to provide solutions. ... God help us if we don’t solve this debt crisis. This is the No. 1 topic in America today, and we’ve got to solve it.”
His last words were even harsher.
“I want to make sure that the few minutes that we have didn’t get hijacked by the current shiny object of the day,” he said before walking off the stage and ending the press conference. “This is the current crisis in America.”
The family separation issue has clearly struck a nerve. A compounding number of viral stories about children in detention centers have spurred questions about the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy on migrants entering the country illegally. Administration officials say 2,000 children have been separated from their families so far as a result of that policy, though some estimates are higher.
Cruz has said he will introduce legislation to stop family separation — though some immigration lawyers have raised concerns about aspects of his proposed policy. Other Republican senators are floating their own ideas. Democrats in the Senate have united behind the Keep Families Together Act, introduced by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but so far it hasn’t garnered any Republican support.
For more on family separation at the border, please listen to the June 18 episode of Today, Explained.