President Donald Trump has told House Republicans he is "1000 per cent" behind their rival immigration bills, providing little clear direction for party leaders searching for a way to defuse the escalating controversy over family separations at the southern border.
And it's uncertain if Trump's support will be enough to push any legislation through the divided GOP majority.
GOP lawmakers, increasingly fearful of a voter backlash in November, met with Trump for about an hour at the Capitol to try to find a solution that both holds to Trump's hard-line immigration policy and ends the practice of taking migrant children from parents charged with entering the country illegally. Many lawmakers say Trump could simply reverse the administration's "zero tolerance" policy and keep families together.
While Trump held firm to his tough immigration stance in an earlier appearance Tuesday, he acknowledged during the closed-door meeting that the coverage of family separations is taking a toll. Trump said his daughter, Ivanka, had told him the situation with the families looks bad, one lawmaker said.
"He said, 'Politically, this is bad,"' said Representative Randy Weber, of Texas. "It's not about the politics, this is the right thing to do."
But Trump touched on many topics during the meeting, including his historic meeting with the North Korean Kim Jong Un. He praised a few GOP lawmakers by name for defending him on TV, according to one Republican in the room. And he took a jab at Representative Mark Sanford, congratulating the South Carolina Republican on his recent campaign, according to others granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting. Sanford, a frequent Trump critic, lost after his GOP primary opponent highlighted his criticism of the president.
As Trump walked out of the session in the Capitol basement, he was confronted by about a half-dozen House Democrats, who yelled, "Stop separating our families!"
Leaders in both the House and Senate are struggling to shield the party's lawmakers from the public outcry over images of children taken from migrant parents and held in cages at the border. But they are running up against Trump's shifting views on specifics and his determination, according to advisers, not to look soft on his signature immigration issue, the border wall.
Representative Kristi Noem said Trump told lawmakers he "would continue to support the legislation, and that people shouldn't be worried that he would change his mind." She said it was a light moment. "Everybody laughed."
Even if Republicans manage to pass an immigration bill through the House, which is a tall order, the fight is all but certain to fizzle in the Senate.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York, is adamant that Trump can end the family separations on his own and that legislation is not needed.
Without Democratic support, Republicans cannot muster the 60 votes needed to move forward on legislation.
Schumer said with most Americans against family separations, it's Republicans "feeling the heat on this issue, and that's why they're squirming."