Former Obama aide: Trump's policy separating migrant families is "immoral"

One of former President Barack Obama's longest-serving advisers is blasting the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, saying it runs counter to American values.

Dan Pfeiffer, who was communications director for the 2008 Obama campaign and in the White House before becoming a senior adviser to President Obama, said on "CBS This Morning" Monday that previous Republican and Democratic administrations also struggled with how to deal with migrants.

"The question of immigration and migrants is something that is one of the great challenges," Pfeiffer said. "How do you find the right balance with your laws and your values? Ultimately, faced with a crisis like this, we decided not to take the step that the Trump administration did because it ran contrary to our values. It's simply immoral to separate parents from kids."

"But the Obama administration considered it?" asked co-host Norah O'Donnell.

"Every idea was up there. Cecilia Muñoz, who had led on this issue, said it was on the table for a minute, said there was no way we could do this, and we didn't."

Having served in the White House, Pfeiffer was asked if he felt any empathy for the Trump White House in its handling of messaging for its new policy.

"I have zero, zero empathy for them," he replied. "This policy is a perfect example of what sums up the Trump administration, which is tremendous cruelty, followed by rank incompetence and dishonesty. They have offered five explanations for where this came from. If it is their policy and they believe in it, they should own it and explain it. And so, they're lying about it. And that's simply not acceptable from a president."

Co-host Alex Wagner asked, "What do Democrats do in this moment? The president is trying to pin the blame squarely on their shoulders. There is legislation going through Congress this week. What should Democrats do? Should they play ball on this?"

"I think ultimately Democrats need to work with Republicans to pass immigration laws that are consistent with our values, Democratic values," Pfeiffer replied. "However, we cannot allow the Trump administration to hold thousands of children hostage as leverage to get funding for the law.  So they need to do what they've done with the limited leverage of powers we have: Go to these centers, demand to see them, talk about it, fight back against the Trump administration, be unified and tough.

"They have a bill in the Senate and I think they should demand a vote on that. If Paul Ryan in the House put a bill to end this policy on the floor of the House, it would get 300 votes. He needs to do that."

Co-host John Dickerson asked Pfeiffer if he believed bipartisan immigration reform is even possible given the state of politics today.

"It may not be," Pfeiffer said, "but Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump say they want to help the Dreamers. They say they want to do these things. Let's call the cards; let's see what they're going to do. Let's push for it. And if they don't, let's let the voters know they decided to do damage to these children, to deport the Dreamers.

"We should be willing to look for solutions, but we shouldn't compromise our values to do that."

Pfeiffer, the co-host of the popular podcast Pod Save America, has also written a new book, "Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump" (Twelve Books). In it he calls for Democrats to be "audacious, authentic and inspirational."

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Twelve Books

He also says that Democrats could learn something from Mr. Trump about his messaging.

"Donald Trump did a very good job of controlling the conversation around the election; everyone had to respond to Trump," Pfeiffer said. "The only way even Hillary Clinton could get press coverage was to respond to Trump. And so Democrats need to learn the lessons of how Donald Trump used social media, used media outlets that were consistent with his ideology, to control the conversation and raise issues.

"I think ultimately we need to tell a story. It is a compelling, inspirational, authentic story about where we want to lead this country, and why Trump and the Republicans are the wrong people to do it. We have to do that in 2018, and we have to do it in 2020 as well."

When asked if President Obama would be working behind the scenes to further that process, Pfeiffer responded, "As I understand it, he's going to be out there campaigning for Democrats in the fall. I think he'll have things to say when he's out there, what the message should be.  But he gave us the roadmap as Democrats on what to do in his farewell speech back in January 2017: We need to organize, we need to march, and we need to run races everywhere.

"And that's what we're doing. And if we continue to do the work the Democrats have been doing since Inauguration Day and the Women's March, then I think we'll have success. But there's a lot more work to do."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.