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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump indicated he would take action shortly to both improve security on the border and help keep families together, speaking briefly with reporters Wednesday.
He said he would be taking “pre-emptive” action as the White House and lawmakers scramble to deal with fallout over the adminstration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in separations at the border.
“I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that,” Trump said. “I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure.”
The President also said he would be canceling the congressional picnic scheduled for Thursday because it didn’t feel right to go on as scheduled.
It remains unclear what the exactly the executive action will say.
But Justice Department officials have huddled since Wednesday morning working on an executive order for the President to sign that will address the separation of families, according to a source familiar with the plans.
Executive orders typically require input from the Office of Legal Counsel.
The details of the executive order continue to be worked out through ongoing conversations between the White House, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, the source explained.
While Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not at the meeting at the White House Wednesday morning, his chief of staff has been there to represent the Justice Department, the source added.
Prior to Trump’s remarks, White House aides refused to comment on rumors of an executive order and Republicans on Capitol Hill seemingly had no knowledge of a coming executive action. Until now, Trump and White House officials have instead been pushing GOP lawmakers this week to pass legislation that deals with immigration reform.
The move — if it retreats from his current stance that the administration is simply following the current law and needs congressional action to stop the separations — would mark a huge reversal by the President.
Both first lady Melania Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen reportedly had roles in the changing course.
The first lady has been working for several days behind the scenes, encouraging the President to keep families together, a White House official told CNN. Melania Trump has had several private conversations with her husband, pushing him to do all he can to keep families at the border intact, whether via a legislative route, or acting alone to stop the process, the official said.
Nielsen has been at the White House all morning in the room with the President and key staff, and she’s a “key player” in this.
This official says it was Nielsen urging some further action.
Signing an executive order to reverse his own administration’s practice would also be unnecessary since almost everyone in Washington, apart from the President, agrees that he already has the power to end the separations any time he wants.
Indications of a potential shift in administration thinking came an hour after Speaker Paul Ryan said the House would vote Thursday on a compromise between conservative and Republican senators that would address the issue of family separations.
The measure would also offer protections to another vulnerable group — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients — who are undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.
But the chances of the bill passing are unclear as is the case with any bill dealing with the volatile issue of immigration. The fact that includes fundamental changes to the legal immigration system mean its chances in the Senate are even more uncertain.
A potential executive order could emerge as a fallback option for the administration if it wants to alleviate the crisis should the House bill not pass — but talk that it is a possibility seems likely to undermine momentum for Republican senators to take a tough immigration vote.