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iStock/Thinkstock(TORNILLO, Texas) -- Mayors from around the nation and across the political aisle converged on a border town Thursday morning to protest President Donald Trump's family separation policy.

During a press conference in Tornillo, Texas, some 20 miles from El Paso, a bipartisan delegation of more than a dozen mayors collectively described the aftermath of the new immigration policy as "cruel," "inhumane," "unjust," "immoral," a "humanitarian crisis" and a "moral crisis."

"We are better than this," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Gracetti, a Democratic member of the group. "Children are not poker chips; they are people. We demand that Washington fix the mess that it has created."

Trump, appearing to cave to the global outrage and immense political pressure, signed an executive order on Wednesday ending his administration's controversial policy of forcibly separating immigrant families at the border with Mexico. But thousands of children have already been taken away from their detained parents.

The delegation, whose members strongly opposed the policy, is calling for the immediate reunification of these families and for Congress to take action to ensure this doesn't happen again. The mayors traveled to the Tornillo Port of Entry, where the Trump administration has erected a temporary tent city to house the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children.

But they were denied access to the facility Thursday morning, and it remains unclear how immigration officials will reunite the families, the mayors said.

"There are more than 2,300 children -- some as young as 8 months old -- who are frightfully alone and must be reunited with their parents as soon as possible, and there is no clear answer as to how this will be done and how quickly," said Steve Benjamin, the Democratic mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, who is also the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and led the group to Tornillo.

"The president's indecision and erratic policymaking has impacted and, frankly, traumatized thousands of lives," he added.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more, organized the trip prior to Wednesday's executive order, after unanimously passing a resolution condemning the separation of families. The delegation included Democratic and Republican mayors from California, Washington state, New Mexico, Texas, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, New York and Rhode Island.

In addition to the reunification of families, the mayors called for Congress to get to work on a long-term, comprehensive solution to the nation's "broken" immigration system.

"This is where immigration should be discussed -- not in Washington, but here on the border," El Paso Mayor Donald Margo, a Republican, told reporters. "We are the community that is the poster child for immigration and bicultural relations, and has been for over 400 years."

The Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy, enacted by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early May, stated that everyone who tries to cross the southern border illegally would be criminally prosecuted, and that parents will be separated from their children as they await trial.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2,342 children were separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border from May 5 through June 9 under the new initiative.

The policy sparked outrage across the nation and abroad, with protesters taking to the streets in cities from Los Angeles to New York City.

On Wednesday, Trump said the "zero-tolerance" policy would continue, but his executive order is "about keeping families together while ensuring we have a powerful, very strong border."

"I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," Trump said. "Anybody with a heart would feel this way."

The delegation of mayors called Trump's executive order "merely one step" in the right direction that "still leaves many questions unanswered."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, said countless children who have already been separated from their families are being "parceled out like commodities in the dead of night" to places thousands of miles away from their detained parents.

"Nothing we are doing today makes our country any safer, and instead it degrades the moral conscious of our country," Durkan, a former federal prosecutor, said at the press conference in Tornillo Thursday morning.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, said he's been unable to gain access to the facilities where unaccompanied immigrant children have been bused to in his city.

"I can't even imagine the pain that parents are feeling and the trauma the children are going through," Suarez told reporters. "We’re a country of immigrants -- that is what made us strong and what made us special."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, revealed how he was shocked to learn that more than 200 children who were recently separated from their families at the southern border are currently at an immigration foster care center in his own city -- and nobody told him.

"These kids have been traumatized. These kids are suffering, physically and mentally," de Blasio told reporters in Tornillo. "Think of how broken that is -- and our government didn't even tell us it was happening."

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers and watchdog groups pressed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt Thursday to share details about his legal defense fund.

The EPA administrator told a Senate hearing last month that a legal defense fund has been set up to help with his mounting legal fees as he grapples with a growing number of federal ethics investigations, including ones looking into whether Pruitt directed EPA aides to help him with personal errands or whether he broke rules prohibiting using his office for personal gain.

A month has passed since Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen, Thomas Carper, Tom Udall and Sheldon Whitehouse gave Pruitt 10 days to provide them with basic information about the legal defense fund, but the senators told ABC News that Pruitt has yet to respond.

Government watchdog groups, including Public Citizen, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Every Voice and the Sunlight Foundation, released a letter Thursday urging the administrator to comply with the request.

Democrats have few options to compel Pruitt to produce the material, as they are in the minority in Congress and would be unlikely to get GOP cooperation to such a move. They could try to sue the administrator for the information in court, but that option is rarely used. Groups outside of Congress could also try to sue for the information.

“There remains no record of the operations and fundraising of your legal defense fund,” the letter said. “If a legal defense fund is not carefully set up and administered, there are many ways the fund may run afoul of executive branch ethics rules. Given the large number of ethics scandals now under investigation at the EPA, further scandals should be avoided by you and the agency.”

Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, referred questions to Pruitt's outside counsel. Pruitt’s outside attorney has not responded to requests from ABC News for comment.

At last month’s Senate hearing, Pruitt said he would follow proper procedures for the fund, including not accepting money from industries that have business before the EPA. But he has shared very little else about the fund, including its name, structure, fundraising activities and the identities of his contributions.

Several former members of the Trump administration have formed legal defense funds to deal with expenses related to the special counsel investigation into possible election interference. President Donald Trump formed the Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust LLC to help support any individual who “was an employee, consultant, fundraised or volunteer” on behalf of President Trump’s campaign. In doing so, attorneys for the president identified the rules that would govern contributions to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

"These legal defense funds represent a crisis in the administration -- not just in terms of the number of ethics scandals, but also in the fact that there are very few rules governing how these legal defense funds are created and operate," Public Citizen government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman said.

"If these funds are left unregulated, they provide an ideal opportunity for wealthy special interests and corporations to attempt to buy favors from government officials," Holman added. "Any official who is facing serious legal charges will undoubtedly be most grateful to any person or company who chips in a large amount of money to pay for his or her legal defense."

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ABC News(MCALLEN, Texas) -- First lady Melania Trump traveled to Texas Thursday in an unannounced visit to a social services center amid a crisis over migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents as a result of the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy.

"I'm glad I'm here, and I'm looking forward to seeing the children," she said at a roundtable with center workers. "But, first of all, let me begin to recognize each of you and thanking you for all that you do, for your heroic work that you do every day and what you do for those children. We all know they're here without their families, and I want to thank you for your hard work."

The center currently houses 55 children, most between the ages of 12 and 17. Facility officials said the majority of the children come without their parents -- so-called unaccompanied minors -- but some had been separated from families. The first lady asked about their mental state when they first arrive, and was told they are usually distraught but begin to relax after 24 hours.

The visit comes a day after President Trump, through executive order, halted the policy that has resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents who illegally crossed the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

Melania Trump had personally lobbied her husband in recent days to put an end to the family separations and had multiple private conversations with him on the topic, a White House official said. The president's daughter and White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, had also privately expressed her concerns about the policy to the president.

The president cited his wife and daughter's strong feelings on the issue as a factor in his decision to end the family separations, even as he vowed to continue his administration's "zero-tolerance" policy that calls for the criminal prosecution of any adult found crossing into the country illegally.

"Ivanka feels very strongly. My wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it," the president said in remarks as he signed the executive order Wednesday. "I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don't like to see families separated. At the same time, we don't want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem."

Over the weekend, Mrs. Trump had also issued a statement through her spokeswoman expressing her dislike of the family separations, even as she stopped short of rebuking her husband's policy.

"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. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart," the first lady's communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said in a Sunday statement.

All four living former first ladies also went public in condemning the family separations, with former first lady Laura Bush calling the practice "immoral" and likening it to American-Japanese internment camps during World War II.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Potential jurors being considered for the upcoming trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in Virginia will be asked questions about Ukraine, according to a new court filing released Thursday.

The filing, which reveals questions that will likely appear on the jury questionnaire by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, shows that potential jurors could be asked about their personal ties to Ukraine and whether those ties would cause jurors to form opinions about Manafort’s guilt or innocence.

The questionnaire details allegations against Manafort, asking potential jurors if allegations “relating to payments for lobbying work on behalf of Ukrainian politicians” would limit their ability to render a fair verdict.

Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine have served as the basis for many of the charges leveled against him. Among other charges, prosecutors have alleged that Manafort was doing lobbying work in Ukraine without properly registering to do so.

During a raid of Manafort’s home and storage locker by FBI officials last summer, officials seized several binders from a box labeled “Ukraine binders,” according to a previous court filing. Manafort’s legal team has attempted to have some evidence from the raid excluded from trial, but prosecutors have rebuffed these attempts.

Manafort is currently being held in pre-trial detention while he awaits his trial on charges in both Virginia and Washington, D.C. In addition to charges for his failure to register as a foreign lobbyist, Manafort is also facing allegations of money laundering, making false statements to officials and conspiracy against the United States.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

First indicted last October, Manafort was being kept under house arrest in his Virginia home until last week when a federal judge in the Washington case found he violated the terms of his release by attempting to contact witnesses in his case. He is currently being held in jail in Virginia as he awaits trial.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A long-running battle has now escalated to the point where House Republicans are threatening top federal law enforcement officials with contempt of Congress if the Justice Department and FBI do not comply by the end of the week with document requests related to the Hillary Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and other senior House Republicans met with senior Justice Department officials last Friday to discuss why they haven't produced documents sought by the House Oversight, Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

Republican leaders gave DOJ and FBI until this Friday to comply, a source familiar with the meeting told ABC News. Lawmakers had not received all of the requested documents as of Wednesday. The House Intelligence Committee has been given access to a "small portion" of the documents requested, according to a congressional official.

The Justice Department and FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but FBI Director Chris Wray said last week that while his agency has "an obligation to be responsive to legitimate congressional oversight," it also has "an obligation to protect sources and methods."

Some Republicans have said the specifically requested information could help reveal potential anti-Trump bias and political interference in the Clinton and Trump investigations, while others, including Ryan, have said they more generally want to see the administration comply with congressional oversight requests.

"We're prepared to take next steps to get what we need done," Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee who led the day-to-day operations of its Russia investigation, told ABC News. "If there's nothing untoward going on, they're putting up way too big a fight to hold back and to not give us the information."

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., told Fox News on Sunday that the House Speaker has "made it very clear -- there’s going to be action on the floor of the House this week if the FBI and DOJ do not comply with our subpoena requests."

Gowdy warned that the House would "use its full arsenal of constitutional weapons to get compliance," including holding officials in contempt of Congress.

Democrats are skeptical of Republican demands and told ABC News they consider the document demands to be part of an effort to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

"They want the keys to the FBI evidence locker," Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, told ABC News. "At best, if DOJ says 'no,' they're going to use that as a reason to undermine the investigation. If DOJ says 'yes,' I fear that evidence will be turned over to subjects of the investigation, including the president.”

In recent months, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., have issued a series of subpoenas demanding documents and information -- some of it classified -- from the Justice Department related to the investigations involving both 2016 presidential candidates.

Nunes has also been investigating alleged abuse of government surveillance powers during the 2016 election, following allegations that top law enforcement officials improperly spied on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Neither the Republicans nor Page has provided evidence to support this.

"We wanted to figure out what they were doing before and after -- right before and right after the opening of the counterintelligence investigation," Nunes said in an appearance on Fox News on Sunday. "We asked for specific information and documents."

Some Republicans expressed frustration with DOJ leadership Tuesday at a marathon hearing on the DOJ inspector general's report on the Clinton email investigation with Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

One lawmaker -- Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio -- accused Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation, of trying to hide controversial text messages between two FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

In an August 2016 message, Strzok, who led the Clinton probe and FBI investigation of Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, said he would "stop" Trump from becoming president.

"Mr. Rosenstein decided that we couldn't get it until your report came out," Jordan said.

Horowitz said his team found the exchange in May and referred the newly discovered text messages to Rosenstein's office. The inspector general said his office enlisted an outside vendor and the Pentagon to help recover all of the text messages between Page and Strzok, which have been delivered to the Judiciary and Oversight committees in tranches.

Conaway said there may be "an interim step" before Congress holds the officials in contempt. As early as next week, Republican leaders could draft a resolution seeking to “get the full House on board with the demand that the House be respected and that the information be provided to the relevant committees."

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Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Despite signing an executive order on Tuesday to end the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents, President Donald Trump doubled down on his hard-line immigration rhetoric at a campaign rally in Minnesota.

"They're not sending their finest. We're sending them the hell back. That's what we’re doing," he told the crowd of nearly 9,000 supporters. "And, by the way, today I signed an executive order. We will keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough as it has been."

Trump then pummeled congressional Democrats, alleging that they don't care about Americans' safety, jobs or well-being, falsely blaming them for his administration's actions.

"So the Democrats want open borders," Trump said. "'Let everybody come in, let them come in from the Middle East, let them come in from all over the place. We don't care.' We are not going to let it happen."

The president's campaign rally in Duluth was meant for retired police officer and county board member Pete Stauber, a Republican candidate for Congress running in the traditionally Democratic 8th District.

Feeling very reminiscent of his campaign rallies in 2016, there were chants of "Lock her up" when Trump mentioned "Crooked Hillary," and chants of "Build the wall" when Trump talked immigration.

When a couple of protesters were booed and escorted out of the arena, Trump mocked them, telling one of them, "Goodbye, darling. Go home to Mommy."

He also bashed the media, leading the crowd in raucous boos and chants of "CNN sucks."

Trump also laid into cancer-stricken Republican Sen. John McCain.

Without naming him, Trump criticized the Arizona senator for his "no" vote last July on the GOP-led legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare. McCain is battling brain cancer and has not been seen in the nation's capital for several months.

"We had a gentleman late into the morning hours -- that was not a good thing he did for our people or our country, whether Democrat or Republican. Everyone said it -- we have his vote, we have everyone's vote. We were going in for a routine repeal and replace, and he went thumbs down. Not nice," Trump said.

ABC News spoke to several Trump supporters gathered outside of the arena ahead of the president's rally. They echoed Trump's repeatedly false claims over the past week about forced separations at the U.S.-Mexico border -- and who’s to blame for them.

"It's really sad. And that's why the Democrats need to start getting going and get something passed to get it taken care of," said Denise Anderson of Esko, Minnesota.

For James Williamson, a retired military veteran, it was clear-cut: "Are we a nation of laws? If we are, I support any president that supports them."

He added: "Obviously, Obama and Bush and Clinton didn't support the laws."

When ABC News asked if the images of children in cages bothered him, Williamson responded: "No, because they're well cared for. We're paying $700 a day per child. If a person goes to prison, they are separated from their children. If Congress doesn't like it, let them pass new laws. You want a president that supports laws?"

And Heidi Johnson, who took a three-hour bus ride from the town of Bemidji to see Trump in person, agreed with his "America First" mindset.

"I think that we have a lot of issues at home that we need to take care of before we start taking care of other people’s," she said.

Despite overwhelming and obvious support for Trump and his policies, the chilling images of children in cages did affect some people who spoke to ABC News.

"It makes me feel sad a little bit," Noah Lesner, 19, said. But, he added, "There are laws." 

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen met with House Republicans Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol to answer questions about the president’s new executive order ending immigrant family separation while also urging members to pass a legislative fix.

The president signed an executive order directing DHS to keep families together on Wednesday but Congress is still working through multiple bills aimed at a more long-term fix to the current immigration crisis.

Pressed on whether her recent comments that the president can’t solve the immigration problem with executive action, Nielsen emphasized that Congress must act to secure the border and codify law to keep immigrant families together to guard against potential legal rulings.

“They need to change the laws so I have the authority to secure the border for the American people,” she said. “We have court cases, right, that prohibit us from keeping families together. So only Congress can do that.”

But a Congressional fix may be easier said than done, as both chambers faced setbacks in their efforts to reach a compromise on Wednesday ahead of an expected votes on Thursday.

Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, was observed in a heated discussion with Speaker Paul Ryan on the House floor. Meadows cautioned that the bill created through a compromise among Republicans was not yet ready for a vote in its current form.

"The compromise bill is not ready for prime time and hopefully we'll be able to make it ready for prime time," he said.

"I was passionate, I was not yelling," Meadows said of his apparent disagreement with Ryan. “There are things that were supposed to be in the compromise bill that are not in the compromise bill that we had all agreed to.”

"I was told there were two things in there, that were not in there," he said of the bill, which he finished reading Wednesday. Meadows would not disclose whether he would oppose the measures as they’re currently crafted.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican who has negotiated for weeks with GOP leaders to craft compromise legislation, said the president’s executive order is “good news.” Curbelo said that Nielsen pledged to work to reunite children currently separated from their parents “as soon as possible.”

But Curbelo also accused some Republicans of working to "blow up" the GOP compromise bill.

"I don't think that anyone thought we would get this far and apparently that's causing some anxiety," he said. "We're also not going to let people step all over us and try to rearrange what was agreed to here at the eleventh hour.”

On the Senate side Wednesday evening a bipartisan group of about a dozen senators met in the office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., to start talking about possible longer-term legislative solutions to address the issues surrounding families being separated on the U.S. border.

As they left the meeting, it was clear that even among the most willing of senators to work together, political divisions on resolving this issue in the long term run deep and wouldn't be solved quickly or easily.

Most of the lawmakers who joined Collins said they agreed that any bill should only deal with this narrow issue and not broader problems related to immigration like DACA. But all other aspects of a more permanent deal broke down along party lines.

“Indefinite family detention is not a solution to the problem. There is no way that we can in my mind indefinitely detain families as they go through their asylum process,” Sen Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said it would not work to keep families out of detention either.

“The solution that some are pushing is to simply release illegal aliens who are detained. Simply return to catch-and-release. That's a mistake. That doesn't work,” Cruz said.

While all participants in the meeting also agreed that their meeting was just the start of what is likely to be a series of long discussions and possible congressional hearings, the consensus among Democrats and Republicans was that beyond ending family separation, there was little consensus on which to build.

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump, under growing pressure to act unilaterally to address the immigration crisis, Wednesday signed an executive order that he said would keep immigrant families at the border together.

Trump said he didn't like the sight of families being separated, according to a pool report. He said the "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting everyone who tries to cross the border illegally would continue.

"It's about keeping families together," Trump said, "while ensuring we have a powerful, very strong border."

"I think the word 'compassion' comes into it," he said. "My wife feels strongly about it. I feel strongly about it. Anybody with a heart would feel this way," he added.

"We have to maintain toughness, or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don't stand for, that we don't want," Trump said earlier Wednesday when he announced he would be signing the order.

The president's surprise decision comes after images of children separated from their parents erupted into a political firestorm. The Trump administration consistently said it had no choice but to separate families because of the law. Just last Friday the president said, "You can't do it through an executive order."

The president's move comes amid growing outrage over the practice and on the eve of House votes Thursday to address the immigration problem.

"I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure,” Trump said.

In the Cabinet Room, surrounded by Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Trump continued to falsely place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Democrats in Congress.

"We're having a lot of problems with Democrats. They don't care about lack of security. They would like to have open borders where anybody in the world can just flow in, including from the Middle East, from anybody, anywhere, they can just flow into our country," Trump said.

"I think it's very important that we protect our border. We cannot allow a child to be a get out of free card and get into the U.S.," said Sen. Cotton.

The president said he's facing a dilemma between being weak and strong on the issue of immigration, and that it's hard to have both heart and be strong.

"The dilemma is that if you're weak, if you're weak, which some people would like you to be, if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma," Trump said.

"Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that's a tough dilemma."

The president said images of children in detention “affect everyone” but said images from the Obama administration were worse.

“You have double standards,” Trump said. “This has been going on for 50 years.”

"We want to be strong at the border but we also want to be compassionate," Trump said.

First lady Melania Trump has been pushing behind the scenes for days to get her husband to end the child separation policy, according to a White House official.

The official said Mrs. Trump has been speaking with her husband often about this in recent days and has been encouraging him to do all he can to end the separations however he could.

Last night, Trump told lawmakers his daughter Ivanka had shown him images of children in detention facilities and urged him to end the separation practice. Trump's daughter stood in the back of the Cabinet Room as the president made his announcement.

While it's not clear exactly what the president will sign, it will not end the "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting everyone who tries to cross the border illegally, a source involved in the drafting told ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl.

The directive prepared for the president would instruct the Justice Department to allow children to be detained along with their family members while they await a hearing — even if that process takes more than 20 days.

Right now, under what's called the Flores consent decree, children can be detained for only 20 days. The president will instruct DOJ to challenge that decree and to not abide by it while it is being challenged, the source said.

This move will almost certainly be challenged in court.

Trump also announced that the White House congressional picnic -- a favorite summer social event for lawmakers on the Hill -- will be cancelled as the administration figures out its next steps.

"We have a congressional picnic tomorrow, and I was just walking over to the Oval Office and I said, you know, it doesn't feel right to have a picnic for Congress when we're working on doing something very important."

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House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) -- The Committee on Homeland Security Democrats hosted a congressional panel on Wednesday to answer questions regarding President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, a practice that has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The discussion titled “Immigration Policy Failures: from Family Separation to Detention Practices” covered topics including health, adoption and advocacy.

“I wish it was a panel we didn't have to convene,” Ryan Mace, Grassroots Advocacy & Refugee Specialist of Amnesty International USA, said.

Mace said the policy is a “flagrant violation” of human rights and called on Congress to end the detainment of asylum seekers.

“Families and children who are trying to get away from violence to somewhere they are safe and can seek asylum,” Mace said. “For most, asylum is not something they choose to do but something they must do.”

Advocacy Strategist of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First, Jennifer Quigley, also weighed in to say the U.S. government should not be prosecuting asylum seekers but should instead process their asylum claims.

The panelists also touched on the process of adopting the children in the centers. Sanjeev K. Sriram of Doctors for America says although it may seem like a good idea, it may actually negatively impact the child.

“[...] how traumatizing those good intentions are,” Sriram said. “You can have all the good intentions in the world and have a horrible impact.”

Sriram spoke on the mental health effect of removing children from their parents. He said that when asylum seekers first arrive at the border, mental health services should be readily available.

“Full mental health services [...] should be the thing we are working to litigate,” Sriram said. “Those are our basic duties and responsibilities that we owe to these vulnerable children.”

Advocacy groups mobilize supporters to end 'zero-tolerance' immigration policy

Closing remarks from the panelists called for constituents to donate to advocacy groups, register to vote, and raise their voice.

While the event was going on, President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to to keep immigrant families together.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As President Trump moved Wednesday to quell concerns over the ongoing crisis surrounding the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, Republicans vying for U.S. Senate seats across the country are digging in on their support for the president, and instead are trying to cast the blame for the situation on their Democratic opponents.

Republican candidates in competitive races around the country have mostly steered clear of direct criticism of the Trump White House, and are making congressional gridlock the proverbial boogeyman at the center of the growing political and humanitarian crisis at the border.

The strategy is yet another reminder of President Donald Trump's constant presence in some of the most contentious and important races in the first major election since his inauguration, where his party's majority in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate are at risk.

President Trump, who met with congressional Republicans Tuesday night in an attempt to corral support for a legislative solution to the crisis, Wednesday signed an executive order he claims will address the problem of family separation at the border while maintaining aggressive border security.

"I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," Trump said at the White House Wednesday.

"The dilemma is if you’re weak...the country is going to be overwhelmed with people...if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. Perhaps I’d like to be strong," the President said earlier Wednesday, injecting a dose of uncertainty into an already volatile political process, one that continues to see Congress struggle to find consensus on a legislative solution.

Sixty-six percent of Americans oppose the separation of families at the border according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. A partisan breakdown of opinion shows that 55 percent of Republicans support the policy, while 68 percent of independents and 91 percent of Democrats are opposed.

On Tuesday, Trump was more than willing to decry "Democrat-supported loopholes" as the root cause of the border crisis.

"As a result of Democrat-supported loopholes in our federal laws, most illegal immigrant families and minors from Central America who arrive unlawfully at the border cannot be detained together or removed together. Only released. These are crippling loopholes that cause family separation, which we don't want,” Trump said in pushing the blame onto Democrats.

Regardless of the confusion in Washington, Republican candidates are following Trump's lead in attempting to scapegoat their Democratic opponents.

Two Republican U.S. Senate candidates in states that Donald Trump captured on his way to the White House in 2016 -- Kevin Nicholson of Wisconsin and Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia -- are attempting to shift the blame off of Trump and onto their Democratic opponents.

"As a father I feel great concern any time I see a child crying out of fear or desperation, anywhere in the world," Nicholson wrote in a statement Tuesday, "In this case, I'm also angry with the many entrenched Washington politicians – like Tammy Baldwin – who have worked mightily to encourage the 'catch and release' illegal immigration policies that put innocent children in this position in the first place."

Baldwin's campaign did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment on Nicholson's charge.

Morrisey released a statement Wednesday morning attacking his opponent, Democrat Joe Manchin, for supporting the "Keep Families Together Act" authored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein that earlier this week garnered the support of the entire Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate.

"Joe Manchin is putting the interest of illegal immigrant criminals and the agenda of liberal Washington elites ahead of West Virginia families," Morrisey, the Attorney General of West Virginia, wrote in a statement, "Washington Democrats and Joe Manchin are offering drug cartels, gangs, and child traffickers a one-way ticket into our country with their open-borders legislation."

GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, a stalwart ally of President Trump that is running for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, says her "heart breaks for the families" but is attempting to shift the blame onto "liberals wouldn't pay to enforce immigration laws or build suitable facilities for asylum seekers."

"The Obama policies turned every state into a border state, every town into a border town," Blackburn added in an interview with Fox News Wednesday morning.

In condemning the family separations, Blackburn's likely Democratic opponent, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, noted the bipartisan opposition to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy and said it indicated the nation is on a "morally bankrupt path."

"This is no longer the President’s problem, or the Department of Homeland Security’s problem. It is America’s problem. Thankfully, we live in a strong nation, full of parents, faith leaders, and many others from all parts of the political spectrum who have condemned this policy," Bredesen wrote in a statement released Tuesday, "We have placed ourselves on a morally bankrupt path. Today, the real test of our strength as a nation is not whether we’ve made a mistake, it’s whether we recognize where we’ve failed and fix it. Now."

In Pennsylvania, another state Trump won in the 2016 election where a Democratic incumbent is battling an Trump-aligned challenger, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey attempted to turn the tables on criticism from his GOP opponent, Rep. Lou Barletta, over his support for the Feinstein bill.

"This is a fundamental moral question far beyond partisan politics. We must reject this inhumane, cruel practice of separating children from their parents," Casey wrote in a statement released by his re-election campaign Wednesday, "Rather than attacking me or blaming Democrats, Congressman Barletta should join his Republican colleagues in demanding the Trump administration immediately end this policy."

In North Dakota, GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer's campaign went after his opponent, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, over her support for the Feinstein-authored legislation.

"Imagine a MS-13 gang member getting arrested in North Dakota on a federal drug or weapons charge getting off scot-free because he has children traveling with him,” Rasmussen said. “Worse yet, this bad legislation could actually encourage criminals to use children as shields to prevent arrest," Cramer's Communications Director Tim Rasmussen wrote in a statement released Wednesday, "Heitkamp’s support of this bad legislation demonstrates she is more interested in gaining political points than creating strong and effective legislation."

In the border state of Arizona, a field of three Republicans vying for the open seat left by prominent Trump-critic Sen. Jeff Flake has offered varying takes on the border crisis, but all have either stayed silent steered clear of directly criticizing the President and again are directing the blame squarely at Democrats.

Former State Sen. Kelli Ward, one GOP contender, slammed both her likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, and Republican Rep. Martha McSally.

"Congress has repeatedly failed to address border security, one of the top issues for voters in Arizona, while my opponents Reps. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema have allowed this humanitarian crisis to persist for years – under several administrations – without making any effort to fix it."

In a statement provided to ABC News Monday, Sinema called for an end to the separation of families at the border and said Congress should "stop playing politics" and find a solution to the crisis.

"This is wrong. The administration is choosing to separate families at the border; they should stop immediately," Sinema wrote, "As always, I stand ready to work with anyone to fix our broken immigration system, secure our border, and protect our communities. I call on my colleagues and the administration to stop playing politics and work together."

McSally, who has been straddling the difficult political line between vociferous Trump-support and broadening her appeal beyond the GOP base, released a statement Monday saying that the U.S. should "enforce our laws in a consistent and humane manner and DHS should not have to choose between enforcing the law and keeping children with their parents."

She also trumpeted a bill she has authored that allows children to stay with their parents "as they undergo due process," and that she hopes "we can get a version of my bill out of the House this week and on the President's desk immediately to address many urgent issues like this."

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by President Trump last year after he was held in contempt of court for defying a court order to stop discriminatory immigration enforcement practices, voiced support for punishing the parents who chose to bring their children across the border.

"While Sheriff Arpaio understands and is sensitive to the issue of the children coming across and being separated from families, Arpaio asks the question; 'Why aren't we holding the parents of these kids responsible? They know there is an inherent risk when they make this journey to cross the border illegally.'" Arpaio's Communications Director Chris Hegstrom wrote in a response to an ABC News inquiry.

While the President continues to urge Congress to find a more permanent, legislative solution to the crisis, the issue remains top of mind for Republican candidates hoping to expand the party's slim 51 to 49 majority in the U.S. Senate.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime confidant and former personal attorney, has resigned from his post as deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee's Finance Committee, sources close to the RNC told ABC News.

In his resignation letter to Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chair, Cohen cited the ongoing special counsel investigation as one reason for his departure.

“This important role requires the full-time attention and dedication of each member. Given the ongoing Mueller and [Southern District of New York] investigations, that simply is impossible for me to do,” he wrote.

Cohen also criticized the administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the southern border, the first time he has distanced himself from the president.

"As the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy is heart-wrenching,” Cohen wrote. “While I strongly support measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as bargaining chips."

Cohen on Tuesday hired New York lawyer Guy Petrillo to represent him in a federal investigation into his business dealings.

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Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(DENTON, Texas) -- As the immigration policy looms large in the national consciousness, border-state lawmakers are feeling the pressure from constituents who are outraged that children are being separated from their parents.

Under Trump's new "zero-tolerance" immigration policy, the children of men and women caught crossing the border illegally are placed in government custody while their parents await prosecution in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

Since the policy went into effect, more than 2,200 children have been isolated from their parents, and many are now housed in crowded shelters -- prompting fury from religious leaders, immigrant advocates and child health specialists alike.

It was a 6-year-old girl at Republican Rep. Michael Burgess' town hall in Denton, Texas, who articulated constituents' anxiety Monday evening:

"Why does Donald Trump think it's OK to leave kids from their moms?” she asked.

His academic response -- citing two bills working their way through the House -- didn't seem to pacify his audience.

"Tents and Walmarts?" a heckler yelled, referencing one shelter facility made of soft-sided tents and another recently converted from a Walmart. "They're babies!"

"You're responsible for what happens here!" screamed another.

"You're protecting Trump!" accused a third, amid a chorus of boos.

Trump has said he hates to see children suffering under this "horrible" policy, which he claims is law.

It's not law. No law mandates separating families. It's a policy Trump announced in April that went into effect in May.

But the president has also suggested using family separation as a negotiating tool, refusing to reverse the policy unless Democrats agree to his other immigration reform priorities such as funding his "big, beautiful wall" at the southern border.

At his town hall, Burgess promised he'd work with Congress to reform the immigration system.

"I think this is a very good chance that something, in fact, may be done," he told the 6-year-old, noting it would likely be a "quite historic" week on "border security."

In the meantime, some citizens said, undocumented children are being used as pawns.

"Would you describe what's currently happening on the border as a healthy environment for those children?" one woman asked.

"Well, no, of course you wouldn't," Burgess conceded, later adding, "When I have done these town halls previously, the sentiment has been, we want our laws on the border enforced."

"I haven't been sleeping because of what's going on," another woman said through tears at the town hall. "What are you going to do for these babies?"

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John Lamparski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is facing backlash after he mocked the story of an immigrant girl with Down syndrome in a Fox News interview about the current administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.

Lewandowski, who was in charge of Donald Trump's presidential campaign from January 2015 to June 2016, made the disparaging comment on The Story With Martha MacCallum Tuesday evening. Fellow guest Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton aide, relayed a story about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother after they crossed the border illegally.

"I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage," Petkanas began. But before he could finish, Lewandowski merely replied, sarcastically: "Womp, womp."

Petkanas immediately took issue with Lewandowski, responding, "Did you just say 'womp, womp' to a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome being separated from her mother? How dare you, how absolutely dare you, sir? How dare you."

Lewandowski talked over Petkanas' response, saying, "What I said is you can pick anything you want, the bottom line is clear." Lewandowski had said prior to Petkanas relaying the story of the girl with Down syndrome that "as soon as you cross the border illegally, you have committed an act which is a disservice to all of the people who have stood in line and waited to get into this country legally."

Host Sandra Smith then cut off the argument and steered the conversation back to immigration policy in general.

Petkanas was relaying a story told earlier in the day Tuesday by Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who condemned the separation of families in a press conference.

He described recent cases involving Mexican children, including a 10-year-old Mexican girl with Down syndrome who last week was separated from her mother after they crossed the border. He said the girl is in McAllen, Texas, while the mother was taken to a center in Brownsville, Texas. The father is a legal resident in the United States and they are trying to get them reunited, Videgaray said.

"Our consulate in McAllen is doing the gestures so that, in an immediate fashion, the girl is taken out of the shelter and is reunified with her father, who has the status of a legal resident," Videgaray said. "Of course, this case in particular we have pointed it out to the American authorities at the highest levels."

Videgaray called the policy of separating children from their families "cruel and inhumane," and said Mexico had a "moral responsibility" to speak out.

Among those who immediately condemned Lewandowski's comments was former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who tweeted, "There is no low to which this coward Corey Lewandowski won’t sink."

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen -- a fierce defender of the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy toward immigration -- was heckled by a group of protesters while eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant Tuesday evening.

A group calling itself the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America camped out next to Nielsen's table and chanted slogans and hurled loaded questions at Nielsen, who on Monday stood with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders at a briefing and praised the administration's handling of undocumented immigrants coming into the country.

The president's "zero-tolerance" policy has generated impassioned arguments over the past few weeks, while support for ending the separation of children and parents has come from both sides of the aisle.

President Donald Trump, who met with Republican lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday night, has mostly deflected criticism -- either blaming Democrats in Congress or reportedly asking the GOP lawmakers to take care of the issue in Tuesday's get-together.

The group shouted, "You’re eating a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting tens of thousands of people separated from their parents," and chanted, "No borders, no walls, sanctuary for all," among other slogans.

Members also shouted "Have you listened to it? Have you heard the babies crying? Do you hear them crying?" -- in reference to the audio tape first leaked by ProPublica on Monday purporting to be a recording of immigrant children crying and begging for their parents. Nielsen was asked similar questions at the Monday briefing, and she deflected.

"I have not seen something that came out today, but I've been to detention centers and again I would reference you to our standards and reference you to the care provided not just by the Department of Homeland Security, but by the Department of Health and Human Services when they get to HHS," she said Monday.

Nielsen told attendees at a sheriffs conference the same day that children were treated well at detention facilities.

"It is important to note that these minors are very well taken care of -- don't believe the press. They are very well taken care of. We know this because many of you have detention facilities of your own."

In a statement, the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America said members of the administration "will never be allowed to eat and drink in public again."

"We will not stand by and let Secretary Nielsen dine in peace while she is directing her employees to tear little girls away from their mothers and crying boys away from their fathers at our border," said Margaret McLaughlin, a member of the group's steering committee, in a statement. "Secretary Nielsen and everyone else who has carried out these brutal and cold-blooded orders to rip apart families should never be allowed to eat and drink in public again."

The video shot by the group had garnered over 380,000 views by midnight.

President Trump appeared to send a tweet of support to Nielsen at about 9 p.m., saying that Nielsen did a "fabulous job yesterday at the press conference explaining security at the border and for our country." The heckling incident was not specifically mentioned.

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Kristoffer Tripplaar/For The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In his first remarks since the Justice Department's inspector general's report was released, former FBI Director Jim Comey said Tuesday he doesn't regret the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email case - despite the report's harsh criticism.

Comey initially responded in a New York Times op-ed last Thursday.

"I was strongly criticized in a report that came out last week - a report that I urged be done because I wasn't certain that I was right. When you're making hard decisions, anyone who's certain is a lunatic. I thought we had it right but I thought other people might see it differently. And the inspector general, the watchdog for the Department of Justice, sees it differently," Comey said while during an interview in Berlin with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

"He thinks I should've been quiet and I respect his work," Comey said, referring to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. "I praised his work, but I still think he's underweighting the damage to the institution and I say with a smile, I think if I had chosen that, to be quiet, he'd be writing a report about how I damaged the institution by that choice. And so I don't agree with his weighing even though I respect the criticism because I knew reasonable people could see it differently," he continued.

He later said he wanted to model what the rule of law looks like, despite getting what he described as "ripped" by Horowitz.

Comey was also asked if he should apologize to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after it was revealed that he was using a Gmail account to conduct FBI business.

"Again, I don't want to criticize her, but it shows that even at this late stage she doesn't understand what the investigation in her case was about," he said.

"It was not about a use of her personal email system and she didn't get that during the investigation because she used to say, well Colin Powell, when he was secretary of state, used AOL. That was not what it was about. It was about communicating about classified topics on that system when those topics have to be done on a classified system.." Comey continued.

Comey says he used his Gmail account to send speeches back and forth from his personal account to his work account because he had to write his own. He stressed that he never talked about anything "remotely classified."

He also touched on the texts between FBI Special Agent Peter Strozk and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Comey said he had no idea they were having an affair and, that to conceal the relationship from their spouses, they used their FBI phones.

"We archive the texts, so maybe it's a sign we don't have the brightest people working at our organization," he joked.

"I never saw any indication of bias and Peter Strozk did the first draft of my letter to Congress on October 28th that Hillary Clinton blames for her losing the election, so how exactly is he trying to get Donald Trump?" he said.

"I don't see any evidence of a conspiracy, if the president and his allies want to claim a conspiracy they have to encompass all the data, I don't see how you could approach this and conclude we were on Hillary Clinton's side or on Donald Trump's side and I never saw any indication from those two people," he said.

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