Donald Trump on Wednesday finally caved to pressure—from both sides of the aisle—and did what just days earlier he claimed he couldn’t do: he signed an executive order that he said would end the separate detention of family members who together crossed the border illegally. Images of children being held in cage-like facilities—even minus those pictures that had actually been taken during the Barack Obama administration—had led the news cycle for a week. A dozen Republican senators urged the administration to halt the policy while lawmakers scrambled to develop a legislative fix.
It wasn’t just President Trump’s own party calling on him to show compassion; his family members did, too. First Lady Melania Trump issued a rare statement on a political issue on June 17. “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” read the letter from her spokeswoman, carefully crafted to conceal any candid criticism of her husband. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
Trump’s daughter Ivanka urged him more directly to act—according to Trump himself. “She offered the president her support and she said she would talk to any member of Congress to help find a legislative solution to the issue,” a White House spokesman told CNN. President Trump told the Republican lawmakers he met with on Tuesday night that Ivanka wanted him to end the separations: The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported in a tweet that Trump told Hill Republicans “that she came to him and said ‘Daddy, what are we doing about this?’”
What Trump said about @IvankaTrump in the Hill meeting – that she came to him and said "Daddy, what are we doing about this?" Trump said it's a "tough issue," pivoted to something else.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 19, 2018
It looked as though Trump was using the women in his life to show he has heart, something he’s done before. During the presidential campaign, Ivanka spoke of her father to a reporter: “People talk about gender equality. He has lived it, he has employed women at the highest levels of the Trump Organization for decades, so I think it’s a great testament to how capable he thinks women are and has shown that his whole life.” When House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called Trump after he was elected president, he offered Ivanka the receiver to discuss her ideas on family-leave policies; she took him up on the offer.
But remarks President Trump made at the ceremony at which he signed the new executive order have me wondering if something else might also be behind at least the most recent political use of the Trump women. “It’s about keeping families together,” Trump said of the statement he was signing. “My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. Anybody with a heart would feel this way.”
Is it possible that Trump, in part, is using his wife and daughter to escape any criticism of his move that might come from his anti-immigration base? You can imagine Trump saying with a wink, “You know, I had to do this, things at home were getting pretty uncomfortable!”
Ivanka Trump had declined to speak publicly about the matter while it was unresolved but sent a tweet thanking her daddy after he made what she saw as the right decision: “Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border. 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.”
Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border. 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
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) June 20, 2018
That tweet, of course, went over about as well as you’d expect with the greater Twitter public. There’s no word yet on what the first father thought of it.