MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to start the program again today on the issue of immigration. There's still confusion about how children separated from their parents at the southern border can be reunited with their parents, and it's unclear what role, if any, Congress might play in the coming days. President Trump today offered an extreme proposal of his own, tweeting this morning that anyone who tries to come across the border should be expelled immediately - no judges, no court proceedings. NPR political reporter Sarah McCammon is here to tell us more.
Sarah, thanks so much for joining us.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Yeah, good to be here.
MARTIN: So let's start with the various efforts in Congress to address the immigration issue. What bills have been introduced, and where do they stand heading into the week?
MCCAMMON: Republicans in the House have spent several days trying to put together a bill that could pass. It's something House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised amid the growing concern over separation of children from parents accused of crossing the border illegally as a result of the president's zero tolerance policy. There was a vote last week on what was seen as a hardline immigration bill - was never expected to pass and didn't.
The focus now is on putting together a consensus package that might get through. Leaders are trying to find a way forward on several big issues - things like border security, what to do about people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents. But, so far, House leaders have had to delay that vote in an effort to get more support. It is expected to happen this week.
But, Michel, even if the House manages to pass something, which isn't looking all that likely right now, an immigration bill would face an even more difficult time in the Senate.
MARTIN: So what about the president's role in all this? He's been calling on Congress to act, but he's also sent some mixed messages this week. What is the position of the White House?
MCCAMMON: Well, the president arguably didn't help House Republicans when he tweeted on Friday that Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration and wait until after November in hopes of getting more votes in the Senate - a difficult prospect as it is. And I asked White House officials about this and was told that the president does want Congress to act, to do its job, and that that means taking a vote. But whatever the president says on Twitter or otherwise, House leaders feel a need to take action on immigration. They've spent a lot of time and energy on it, and they risk losing face with voters if they're seen as being unable to do that.
MARTIN: So let me talk about a tweet from the president that's making news today. He wrote, we cannot allow all of these people to invade our country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no judges or court cases, bring them back from where they came - and that's a quote. Now, this is the - at least the second time he's mentioned getting rid of judges and trials for undocumented immigrants. Is this considered a serious proposal?
MCCAMMON: Right. I reached out to the White House today to ask that and got no response. But you're right. It's not the first time he's raised questions about the nation's immigration process and especially the role of judges. A few days ago, he tweeted, asking why we need so many immigration judges. And he's asked that before. As is often the case with this president, it's not clear if this is a policy proposal or an expression of frustration or something else. But to do away with immigration courts would raise huge constitutional issues about due process, and it would be a major departure from the way this has been handled in the past.
MARTIN: So let me talk about the November midterms. President - the president made it clear that this is a political issue to him. He was at a rally on Saturday and he said, Democrats just want to use this issue. I like the issue for the election, too. So just let me ask you - do we have a sense of how this is cutting? How do lawmakers see this? Do they think this could become a voting issue?
MCCAMMON: Right. I mean, a hard line on immigration has been a winning issue for Trump in the past, but the question is how far he can take that. Polls suggest voters oppose family separation. A new Gallup poll finds a record number of Americans - 75 percent - say, on the whole, immigration is a good thing for the country. So, you know, if these images of children being separated from their parents stay in the headlines, that would likely benefit Democrats, be bad for Republicans. Because the reality is Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress right now.
MARTIN: OK. We only have a couple seconds left, but is there a way forward here that you can see from where you sit?
MCCAMMON: I mean, we just need to be watching what - you know, negotiations, how they play out in the House, and also what happens with the efforts to reunify families in the coming days.
MARTIN: That's NPR political reporter Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thank you so much.
MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.