Senator blasts Trump official: Do I need to do your job for you?
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) took the Trump administration to task for its failure to look after the welfare of migrant children who have been detained — and even offered to have her staff help out if Trump officials are too lazy or incompetent to do the legwork themselves.
At a Senate hearing Thursday morning, McCaskill lit into a Department of Health and Human Services official for his agency’s failure to properly keep track of unaccompanied minor children.
Some, but not all, of these children were separated from their families at the border under Trump’s cruel “zero tolerance” policy. According to a damning Senate Oversight Committee report, HHS has failed to keep track of the children after they are placed with a sponsor or in foster care.
This failure makes it harder to ensure that children appear at their immigration court date and receive other public services they need, the report explains. It also leaves children more vulnerable to being trafficked or abused by their caretakers.
And the pathetic reason HHS gave for not doing its job on this? It “cannot determine whom to notify in the state governments” to let local officials know that migrant children are being housed there.
McCaskill offered to help HHS do this part of its own job — which left HHS official Jonathan D. White looking embarrassed and tongue-tied.
“I will make an offer to you today,” McCaskill said. “I think my staff can get you a list of agencies and phone numbers before close of business tomorrow, would that be helpful?”
“I’ll be glad to convey that,” White replied, then stammered, “But I think it does address — there — I think there are very real questions — ”
“No they’re not, no, they are not!” McCaskill interrupted.
“Every state has a child welfare agency,” McCaskill continued. “Because you know what the states do? They take their responsibilities for having children in their care seriously.
“For some reason, in the federal government, we’ve decided a child in the care of the federal government — you know, well, ‘They won’t take our phone calls.’ Are you kidding me?” McCaskill said incredulously.
The problems with how HHS tracks and cares for unaccompanied minors began under the Obama administration, the Senate report notes. But the Trump administration didn’t just fail to fix the existing problems by an agreed-upon deadline — it actively “exacerbated” those problems with its cruel, unnecessary family separations.
During the hearing, McCaskill also blasted Trump Justice Department official James R. McHenry for placing a higher priority on punishing kids than on clearing the backlog of asylum cases that have left many children in limbo.
McCaskill suggested to McHenry that the administration hire more immigration judges, rather than holding “press conferences and talking about separating kids from their parents as a deterrent.”
McHenry insisted that hiring judges wasn’t the problem. He bragged that the hiring process can take “as little as 266 days,” and claimed that the real problem is instead a lack of courtrooms.
McCaskill was not impressed.
“When it came time to find space to put all these families into detention facilities, the government was willing to go to extraordinary lengths,” she said. “Call in the military, use military bases [to house families]. Surely we can find a few courtrooms.”
Also on Thursday, McCaskill’s Republican challenger for her Senate seat, Josh Hawley, tried to attack her at a campaign rally by claiming that she was “hiding” in Washington, D.C.
“Where is Claire McCaskill?” Hawley asked.
McCaskill replied: “CSPAN. Right now. Important hearing on unaccompanied children. Doing my job.”
The Trump administration has traumatized more than 2,500 children by ripping them away from their parents.
The administration did this even after being warned of the harms this would cause — by White, the same official whom McCaskill grilled Thursday.
Those kids, and every American, deserve senators who will do their jobs and hold this administration to account for its failures.