WASHINGTON • Republicans in the US House of Representatives were scrambling to round up the votes needed to pass immigration legislation yesterday, a day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop children from being taken from their parents after crossing illegally into the United States.
"Well, we are working with our members. Obviously, we have to get 218 votes, and we are working hard to get there," Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, head of the House Republican Conference, told Fox News Channel.
The House plans to vote on two Bills designed to halt the practice of separating families entering the US illegally and address a range of other immigration issues.
President Trump on Wednesday stepped back from his administration's practice of separating immigrant families, which had been part of his so-called zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration, amid a domestic and international outcry.
Mr Trump said yesterday he is directing government agencies to reunite immigrant families separated after crossing into the US from Mexico, during a meeting with his Cabinet at the White House.
Meanwhile, First Lady Melania Trump made a surprise visit to the US-Mexican border.
She toured a non-profit social services centre for migrant children as well as a Customs and border patrol processing centre, according to a statement from her office.
The policy shift to stop separations faces legal challenges because of a court order that imposed a 20-day cap on how long minors can be detained, and the Trump administration has called for legislation to find a permanent fix.
Both House Bills, backed by Mr Trump but opposed by Democrats and immigration advocacy groups, would fund the wall Mr Trump has proposed along the US border with Mexico and reduce legal migration, in part by denying visas for some relatives of US residents and citizens living abroad.
The more conservative Bill would also deny the chance of future citizenship to "Dreamers" - immigrants brought into the US illegally years ago when they were children.
Even if a Bill clears the House, it would face an uncertain future in the Senate, where lawmakers are considering different measures and where Republicans would need at least nine Democrats to join them to ensure any Bill could overcome procedural hurdles.
"What is the purpose of the House doing good immigration Bills when you need nine votes by Democrats in the Senate, and the Dems are only looking to obstruct," Mr Trump said in a tweet yesterday, as he renewed his call for a change in Senate rules to allow legislation to move forward with a simple majority.
There is little dispute among representatives and senators that they need to act, but it was increasingly clear yesterday that a speedy resolution from Congress was unlikely.
That means the issue likely will continue to roil the country as voters and lawmakers begin focusing on the November elections that will decide control of Congress.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who, like Ms McCaskill, faces re-election in November, insisted that it will be up to Democrats to determine if the entire effort collapses. "Do they want to come together and fix this problem?" he asked reporters.
"If they do, we can do it. If, on the other hand, the Senate Democrats make a political decision that they just want an issue they can run on in November, then we may end up with separate Bills - a Democrat Bill and a Republican Bill, neither of which passes."
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE