House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked Thursday to react to the increasingly harrowing reports from the U.S. border, where migrant parents who cross the border illegally are being separated from their children.
While Ryan distanced himself from the policy, he stopped short of blaming the Trump administration — nevertheless, multiple news outlets were quick to incorrectly characterized Ryan’s remarks as a “break” from President Trump.
Asked in a press conference if he was comfortable with the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy, Ryan said he was not.
“We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents,” he told reporters. But Ryan refused to blame Trump, instead pointing to a 1997 a case called Flores instead of 2018 Trump administration policy as the reason migrant families are being separated.
A number of outlets described this comment as some sort of break from the Trump administration. Politico declared just that, “Ryan breaks with Trump on splitting families at the border,” while CNBC contrasted the two, writing, “House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s not comfortable with separating immigrant children from their families and wants to stop the practice through legislation. The Trump administration has defended the policy as part of its push to deter people from coming into the U.S. illegally.”
ABC painted a similar picture, reporting Ryan’s comments followed by the White House’s defense of the policy.
In reality, Ryan and the Trump administration are all saying the same thing: The brand new policy of separating children and parents at the border isn’t their fault, it’s been on the books for a long time, and they don’t like it, but they’re just following the law.
In a recent radio interview, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the policy, claiming most children detained by the government are “not infants,” while admitting that the government has been holding babies and toddlers.
“Most are teenagers, although we do have a number of younger ones now, more than we’ve seen recently,” Sessions said.
Sessions went on to say that the children are “maintained” in a “very safe environment” by Health and Human Services (HHS) — the same department now reportedly moving forward with the construction of tent camps to hold migrant children on military bases.
“They are kept close by, and if the person pleads guilty [to illegally crossing the border], they would be deported promptly, and they can take their children with them,” Sessions said.
Sessions then said, “We don’t want to do this at all. If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.”
Ryan’s comments Thursday don’t constitute a break from the Trump administration’s own comments on the issue whatsoever: Ryan, like Sessions, claims he isn’t comfortable with the policy but, like Sessions, says it’s not his fault.
The White House itself has a different explanation for the policy but comes to Ryan’s same conclusion.
In Thursday’s press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quick to assert the current situation isn’t Trump’s fault — but she went a step further than Ryan and blamed Democrats.
“The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade and the president is simply enforcing them,” Sanders told reporters.
Ryan denies that it is Congress’ fault or responsibility — again, he points to Flores — but told reporters he wants to address the issue of family separation in an immigration bill. Of course, if Ryan wanted to address the issue that badly, he could pass a standalone bill.
Painting Ryan’s comments Thursday as a break from Trump is irresponsible and only helps to further Ryan’s personal agenda of being known as the kind, responsible adult in the room while doing absolutely nothing that the kind, responsible adult in the room ought to do.
And, at the end of the day, Ryan, Sessions, and Trump all see these migrant children as bargaining chips for Trump’s beloved wall: Including ending family separation in a bill that also includes more aggressive immigration priorities for Republicans could force Democrats — who have been outspoken about the issue — to sign onto a bill that goes against other aspects of their immigration agenda.