President Donald Trump has found at least one group comfortable with his recent immigration actions: his wealthy donors.
After spending the first half of Tuesday evening with House Republicans amid a public outcry over his administration separating families apprehended after crossing the U.S. border, Trump rode twelve blocks west to the Trump International Hotel, where immigration was one of the cornerstones of his hour-long remarks, according to two people who attended the event.
Trump spoke to about 150 donors gathered for a two-day retreat of the America First Action super PAC, each of whom spent a minimum of $100,000 to attend the event and $250,000 minimum for VIP status.
The president blamed the Senate for what he said was its “obstruction” of the House’s immigration efforts and said Democrats needed to work to pass legislation if they wanted to stop the separation of families. He said his administration would not “selectively enforce the law.” (On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order that he said would allow the administration to keep families together after they’re detained.)
Outside the Trump International Hotel on Tuesday, a liberal super PAC played audio, which had been obtained by ProPublica, of immigrant children crying in detainment centers. But inside, the atmosphere was jovial, attendees said.
“It’s not his role to legislate. It’s not the executive branch’s role to pick and choose what to enforce,” said Doug Deason, a Texas-based investor and Trump donor who attended the America First event, echoing the administration’s stance.
Trump also talked about his quest to keep Congress in GOP hands. And when he spotted boxer Evander Holyfield in the audience, he told the Secret Service to let him onstage and recounted moments from Holyfield’s career, multiple attendees said. At another point, the president gave a shout-out to former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who spoke at the event.
Several lawmakers also came from meeting with Trump at the Capitol to hobnob with wealthy donors, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). Republican donors who attended the America First Action event also heard earlier in the week from lawmakers including Texans Sen. Ted Cruz and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady.
America First Action, which is led by GOP strategist Brian Walsh, is aiming to become a big-money juggernaut supporting Trump through the midterms and his next reelection, but it has struggled with staff turnover and competing groups since it launched in 2017.
The super PAC and its affiliated nonprofit can solicit donations of any size. Trump is allowed to appear at the events but cannot solicit checks directly from its big-money donors, who include Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm and real estate mogul Geoffrey Palmer.
Trump’s policy of separating families at the border has drawn critics in both parties. Lawmakers expect to vote on legislation Thursday that would, among other things, prevent the family splits, although neither of the immigration bills has enough House Republican support to pass at this point. Trump also signed the executive order related to separating families Wednesday afternoon, backing down some on his insistence that only Congress could fix the problem.
But at least some Trump donors don’t appear turned off by the recent drama at the border.
Stanley Hubbard, chief executive of Hubbard Broadcasting and a Trump supporter who did not attend the event Tuesday, said it’s difficult for outsiders to assess the president’s border policy, especially because he said the media wants to “get” Trump.
“No one’s going to know the whole story,” Hubbard said.
Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.
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