President Donald Trump, after weeks of saying only Democrats can fix the migrant-child crisis, did an about-face on Wednesday, signing an executive order reversing his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they illegally cross at the border.
“We are keeping families together,” Trump said in the Oval Office, where he was joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence.
“This will solve that problem. At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people who enter our country illegally,” he said.
As CNN pointed out, in signing the order, Trump “officially reversed his debunked argument that he had no authority to stop separations of undocumented immigrant families at the border.”
Trump announced his decision to sign the executive order earlier on Wednesday.
“We’re going to be signing an executive order in a little while,” Trump said at the top of a Cabinet Room meeting with Republican lawmakers assembled to resolve, at last, the humanitarian and PR crisis spawned by heartbreaking images of children being detained in converted old Wal-Marts and tent cities near the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We’re going to keep families together. But we still have to maintain toughness or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for, that we don’t want,” Trump said.
The president’s remarks came amid overwhelming backlash against the policy that has resulted in 2,342 children being separated from their parents since May after crossing the Southern U.S. border.
The president’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, was also facing pressure from Maria Shriver and other critics to speak out against her father’s policy.
But Ivanka remained silent until after her father signed the executive order — and then congratulated him for reversing his own policy.
“Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border,” she tweeted. “Congress must now act + find a lasting solution that is consistent with our shared values ; the same values that so many come here seeking as they endeavor to create a better life for their families.”
It was unclear at first exactly what Trump would sign.
But he promised to have it done before leaving the White House later Wednesday afternoon for one of his “Make America Great Again” political rallies in Duluth, Minnesota.
“I’m going to be signing an executive order in a little while,” he told the White House press pool before shooing them from the room.
He also announced that he was canceling a White House picnic that had been scheduled for Thursday to fete members of Congress and their families on the South Lawn.
The president called the picnic inappropriate at this time; his scramble to staunch the bad publicity over his child-detention policy was so rushed that he apparently did not give a heads-up to the White House chefs, who had already grilled scores of steaks for the picnic.