Democrats and Republicans duked it out on the Sunday political talk shows over the Trump administration's latest immigration policy controversies, which have spilled out into the public over the past few days.
This week, The Washington Post and multiple subsequent outlets reported that Trump administration officials had floated the idea of busing detained immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities as a way to retaliate against the president's political opponents. Though administration officials quickly said that the idea was pitched and quickly shot down, Trump said Friday that the administration was still contemplating the proposal.
Then, The New York Times, citing three people briefed on the conversation, reported that Trump told acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week that the president would pardon him if he faced legal consequences for closing the southwestern border to migrants. It was unclear what Trump meant by the comments, and, according to one of the people briefed on the conversation, it was possible the president meant them as a joke, the newspaper reported, adding that the conversation alarmed Department of Homeland Security officials who were told of it.
In a series of Saturday tweets — some of which remain unclear — Trump went off about immigration policy.
"Just out: The USA has the absolute legal right to have apprehended illegal immigrants transferred to Sanctuary Cities," Trump wrote. "We hereby demand that they be taken care of at the highest level, especially by the State of California, which is well known or its poor management & high taxes!"
The president earlier said Democrats must immediately change immigration laws or else sanctuary cities will have to act to take care of migrants. Trump also said he "never offered Pardons to Homeland Security Officials," and, in another tweet, claimed the Times didn't check with his administration before publishing its report on the administration's plans for sanctuary cities, though Times reporters said they were in contact with the White House.
The immigration policy dustup comes after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned last week under pressure from Trump over his border demands. Claire Grady, the acting deputy Homeland Security Secretary who had been next in the agency's line of succession, resigned shortly after. The quick level of turnover at the department caused some Republicans to fret over the administration's handling of the department.
On CNN's "State of the Union," House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the report about Trump's conversation with McAleenan "another instance of the President's contempt for law."
Calling for an illegal action would be "exactly contrary to the key presidential duty and to his oath, which is to see that the laws are faithfully executed," Nadler said. "That is the main job of the president, to see that the laws are faithfully executed. For the president to sabotage that goal by deliberately seeking to break the law is unforgivable."
"It's part of a pattern of conduct that we certainly have to take a look at after we see [special counsel Robert Mueller's] report," he added.
Speaking about the idea of busing immigrants to sanctuary cities, Nadler said that would be a "misuse of presidential power" said said it seemed like an idea that originated in the mind of White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who has taken a lead role in the administration's immigration policy.
"Probably Stephen Miller, who seems to be the boss of everybody on immigration, ought to come before Congress and explain some of these policies," Nadler said.
On ABC's "This Week," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that policy idea "did not go further" after it was first brought up because "there were a lot of challenges and it probably didn't make sense to move forward."
"The president likes the idea, and Democrats have said they want these individuals into their communities, so let's see if it works and everybody gets a win out of it," she added. "Again, this is not the ideal situation. The ideal solution is simple; it's for Congress, particularly Democrats in Congress, to sit down with the president, do their jobs, and help us stop this awful crisis that's taking place at our border."
ABC's George Stephanopoulos responded that he was confused why the president liked the idea, saying it could encourage more immigrants to migrate into the U.S.
"Again, this isn't the president's plan," she said. "His top priority is to stop the flow of illegal immigration coming into our country to begin with. Democrats and courts, frankly, keep tying the president's hands and stopping him from being able to do that."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told NBC's "Meet the Press" that it was an "unserious Congress" that was at the root of the immigration problem. She conceded that Republicans "failed to do their job when they were in charge — no doubt."
Meanwhile, on the same program, Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. and a 2020 presidential candidate, responded to Trump's sanctuary city threats, saying, "You can't threaten somebody with something they're not afraid of. And we are not afraid of diversity in the state of Washington."
"This is yet another act of bombastic chaos that's simply not going to work for this ineffective president," he said.