AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
On the one hand, President Trump said today that the executive order he signed last week reversing his administration's policy of separating families at the border was something he wanted to do to show humanity, he said.
At the same time, the president stepped up his hard-line rhetoric on immigration, calling for those who are detained to be removed from the country in a matter of hours without the benefit of court proceedings.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want strong borders, and we want no crime. Strong borders. We want no crime. The Democrats want open borders, and they don't care about crime.
CORNISH: Democrats dispute that claim. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins me now. Hey there, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So what is the president doing here in terms of his message?
LIASSON: Well, the president is doing two things. He made a tactical retreat on one aspect of his immigration policy, saying he would no longer separate kids and families at the border. But he's still very committed to using immigration as a key issue to rally his base for the November elections.
And in recent days, he's called immigrants invaders. He said they were infesting the country. In a rally in Nevada over the weekend, he said if immigrants see, quote, "weakness," they will come here by the millions. He also said, I got elected because we were strong on borders.
And, of course, today in that photo op with the king of Jordan - you just played some of that tape - he again said, we have to change our laws.
CORNISH: Meanwhile, it seems like Congress is confused about what the president wants as well. I mean, where do things stand on that front?
LIASSON: Right. Well, Congress has been trying to pass a law. House Republicans would like to know where the president stands on the immigration bill that they're supposed to vote on this week. He has said he's a thousand percent behind them and the legislation, but he's also tweeted that it's a waste of time for House Republicans to vote on immigration since the bill presumably wouldn't pass the Senate without Democratic votes.
Republicans are still as divided as they've been all year on this issue. Conservatives don't want a path to citizenship for DREAMers. Don't forget, doing something about the DREAMers - those young people who were brought here, often illegally, as children - is what these bills originally were about. That was the other immigration crisis Trump initiated way back in the winter when he took away deportation protection from these young people.
But moderates in the House want to be able to vote on something that protects the DREAMers, to register their support for keeping kids and parents together. And that's what Congress is working on. Presumably, if that bill fails, which many people in the House and the White House think it will, then maybe the House would work on a narrower standalone bill that would just address the issue of family separation at the border.
CORNISH: Now in the wake of all this, we've seen several incidents of protests against members of the Trump administration in restaurants in the region. So this weekend, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in...
CORNISH: ...Virginia because she works for the president. President Trump tweeted about this. And actually, we should note that Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought up the issue at the White House press briefing today.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: This weekend, a member of Congress called for people to push back and make clear to those serving their country in this administration that they are not welcome anywhere, anytime, for anything.
CORNISH: And I assume there she's referencing Maxine Waters...
CORNISH: ...A Democrat who spoke over the weekend.
LIASSON: That's right.
CORNISH: Mara, what's going on?
LIASSON: Maxine Waters, over the weekend, said to Democrats and activists, if you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and create a crowd. Push back on them. Tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere. Trump tweeted about this. He sees this as a good issue. He wants to say, look, the Democrats and the left-wing mob are victimizing my supporters and my administration officials.
The big debate inside the Democratic Party has been, what is the right way to push back against Trump - at the ballot box, or out in the streets? And many Democrats are worried that the party will turn into a left-wing mirror image of instability started by Donald Trump. So they say, Donald Trump, during the campaign, would say, I want to punch that protester in the face or knock the crap out of him. And the question is, what is the right response?
Nancy Pelosi tweeted. She said, Trump's daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable and unacceptable. In other words, she sympathizes with Maxine Waters, but she thinks it's a dumb tactic that will backfire, and it's the wrong way to go. So that's the debate inside the Democratic Party. Left-wing activists want to push back, but Democratic leaders don't.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.