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Trump Turnaround Changes 'Zero Tolerance' Immigration Policy


President Trump was at a rally in Minnesota last night. This came just hours after he signed an executive order ending his administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I signed an executive order. We're going to keep families together. But the border is going to be just as tough as it's been.


GREENE: I want to bring in NPR's lead politics editor, Domenico Montanaro, this morning.

Hi, Domenico.


GREENE: All right. So as we've been reporting for days now, President Trump and his administration kept saying that their hands were tied, that Congress had to fix and change these separations that were happening at the border. I know he was in front of a friendly audience last night in Minnesota - his base. But how did the president explain this sudden change?

MONTANARO: Well, he largely glossed over it there. The crowd in Minnesota didn't seem to be looking for answers on that. You know, they're in his corner, David. You know, they were in the thousands. They're as enthusiastic as ever. And that tracks pretty well with some polling that we've seen come out in the last couple of days. Pew poll yesterday showed that while Democrats in this midterm are more enthusiastic than usual about voting, so are Republicans. A majority of those Republicans are saying they're casting their vote actually for this president. So yesterday, they were really trying to support him, and we saw two sides of this president which we haven't seen before, actually - one where he's willing to retreat on something; we're used to seeing him double and triple down - and then do something we do typically see, which is go on offense in a place like Minnesota.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about what this decision actually means, this executive order. It says that families are going to still be detained, right? It will just mean that families are detained together with their children, which raises a whole lot of legal questions.

MONTANARO: Yeah, definitely. You know, this move by the president and his administration really kind of comes off that hard line we heard the day before from his Homeland Security secretary, where the - but still says they're going to rigorously enforce immigration law, but also says that the policy of the administration is to maintain family unity. The big legal fight, as you sort of allude to here, is that it appears to be - to deal with this clause in the executive order that calls for families to be detained together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings. Now, currently, there is a settlement on the books, the Flores settlement agreement, which got put in place in 1997. It says these immigrant children can't be detained for longer than 20 days. But what we're seeing is this administration say to the attorney general in the executive order that they want federal courts to give them some leniency because of the lack of resources here to be able to essentially detain these families indefinitely.

GREENE: OK. So we're going to be watching action in the courts and also in Congress. I mean, the House is scheduled to vote on two different immigration bills later today. Could that somehow deal with this, these legal questions? And are either of these bills going to pass?

MONTANARO: Well, it certainly would deal with the legal questions. But again, the - will it pass? - is the big question. I don't know how many times we've said it, but it's unclear if anything has the votes to pass here.

GREENE: Yeah, I've heard that before.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, you've - you have these competing bills, one that's preferred by conservatives - broader bill that would enshrine family separation - another put forward by moderates that would end the practice, and that has the backing of the speaker. There was some tension on the floor last night between the speaker and the House Freedom Caucus head, Mark Meadows. So look; it's not clear that this is going to be able to pass, and the Senate wants to do something completely different, more narrow on family separation.

GREENE: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.