House Democrats left a meeting with the Homeland Security secretary Friday with complaints both about the administration’s policies and the secretary’s tone — calling him “dismissive” and saying they still have more questions than answers about President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Secretary John Kelly held the meeting with House Democrats after weeks of requests from the full caucus and from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus directed toward DHS’ immigration agencies. The lawmakers had asked for the briefing to discuss Trump’s strict enforcement of US immigration laws.
But rather than smoothing feathers, Democrats left the meeting with fresh criticism of the administration.
After the meeting, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley told reporters the session “left more questions than answers.”
A DHS spokesman who was in the room countered Democrats’ characterization of the meeting, acknowledging that there were disagreements but saying that the secretary made efforts to explain his positions.
“I wouldn’t characterize anything as dismissive,” David Lapan said, adding that perception is obviously subjective. “There were certainly areas of disagreement, which shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. … He also explained the reasoning behind those areas of disagreement.”
Crowley though said that Kelly’s background as a retired Marine general came through, but not in a positive way.
“This is not boot camp, this is not newly inducted members of the Marine Corps. These are experienced lawmakers who understand the law, understand the complexities of the law and also understand the job that the secretary has to carry out the law,” Crowley said, adding it would be wise “to not be dismissive of members as though they were plebes or cadets.”
“For some questions that was the case, he did answer them in that tone, but for others, he was to some degree, I think many of my colleagues would agree, more dismissive,” Crowley said.
Lawmakers repeatedly said the meeting with Kelly was too brief, partly because votes on the House floor conflicted with the schedule, and also said he did not present them with enough information.
Vice Chairwoman Rep. Linda Sanchez said the answers from Kelly were “less than satisfactory, they were not very deep, they were sort of top line general platitudes … this was of great concern.”
“He wasn’t long on specifics,” Sanchez added later, when asked if he had given lawmakers answers about a plan to separate families in detention.
According to a readout of the meeting provided by a Democratic aide in the room, topics included Trump’s travel ban, recent immigration enforcement actions, and Kelly’s statements that he would consider separating migrant children and parents at the border as a form of deterrence.
Sanchez said Kelly told the Democrats that policy was not being implemented yet but could be.
“‘On the table,’ I believe was his quote,” said CHC Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “‘Everything is on the table.'”
Another hot topic was the Obama administration Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. The administration has left DACA intact, though critics have questioned the detention of a few DACA recipients by immigration officials.
Kelly seemed to take credit for DACA recipients continuing to be protected under this administration, according to Crowley.
He said he’s the “best thing that happened for DACA kids,” Crowley said.
“We’re not going after DACA kids,” Kelly told the lawmakers, according to the aide’s read out.
Lapan did not dispute the read out of the meeting, saying that Kelly told the lawmakers he and the department have “great sympathy” for DACA recipients — while noting that individuals have to meet requirements and remain qualified DACA recipients for their protections.
When lawmakers continued to press him on the topic and recent detentions, Kelly said: “Give me a break, will you?” stunning lawmakers, per the Democratic aide.