Updated on June 20 at 5:34 p.m.
To be a House Republican leader in 2018 is to accept that every directive from President Donald Trump comes with an unspoken disclaimer: subject to change without notice.
On Tuesday evening, lawmakers spilled out of a closed-door meeting in which the president maintained that they—and they alone—were responsible for solving the issue of family separations at the border, a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings. By late Wednesday afternoon, Trump had signed an executive order addressing the crisis on his own.
In that 24-hour window, House GOP leadership scrambled to fine tune a provision in their immigration reform bill that would keep undocumented families together during criminal proceedings. They dodged questions from reporters anxious to know whether a contingency plan was in place, should their so-called “compromise” bill fail. They then suggested there would be no need for one, with Speaker Paul Ryan using much of his Wednesday press conference to sell the legislation as a definitive fix.
Then Trump changed his mind.
Around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order titled, “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation” (the text initially spelled as “seperation”). The EO affirms that the administration’s zero tolerance policy toward illegal immigration will continue, but that officials will seek changes to the Flores decree—a court order which prevents migrant children from being incarcerated—to allow families to be detained together instead. Trump signed his executive order on the heels of not only his insistence that lawmakers themselves solve the problem, but also remarks from top officials such as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, who claimed alternately that there was no separation policy, and that the administration’s hands were tied.