Two top Oregon Republicans took differing positions on the Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from their parents who were illegally crossing the border from Mexico — but both were hammered by critics.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, was blasted for not condemning President Trump’s policy. Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, the Republican nominee for governor, was criticized for not opposing the policy strongly enough.

The statements by the two Republicans were measured against a wave of protests from Democratic leaders in the state excoriating the president and his policy.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., tried to visit a detention center and was turned away. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., denounced the policy in the Senate. Gov. Kate Brown, who had earlier refused to send Oregon National Guard troops to the border to bolster border patrols, issued condemnations. The five Democrats in the state’s U.S. House delegation voiced opposition to the policy.

Buehler took to Twitter to issue his criticism:

“The Administration’s policy of separating families seeking a better life is inconsistent with our values,” Buehler said. “It should end.”

If he had left it there, it would be difficult for Buehler’s progressive critics to find fault. But he added:

“The partisan finger-pointing and failure to fix our broken immigration system is a disgrace to our democracy.”

Democrats pounced on the statement.

“Knute waits until after Greg Walden releases a statement, reiterates Walden’s policy demands for a broad ‘fix’ rather than calling for an immediate halt, and wags finger at ‘both sides’ in a fit of superiority — doesn’t sound very brave or moderate,” tweeted @deschutesdemocrats, the official Twitter account of the Democratic Party in Deschutes County.

The Democrats were alluding to a statement by Walden, who focused on long-term issues of policy and legislation as opposed to immediate executive actions.

“The separation of families arriving illegally to our country is yet another example of the need for reform in our immigration system,” Walden said. “Complications from court decisions tracing back through six presidential administrations have led to the heartbreaking situation we have watched unfold recently. This week, the House will consider legislation that takes steps toward improving border security and making needed changes to our immigration policies, including ensuring that children are not separated from parents detained for entering our country illegally. It’s past time to start fixing this system.”

Asked if Walden believed the separations should be put on hold while the legislation is worked out, Walden stuck close to his first statement, neither explicitly endorsing or condemning Trump’s actions.

“Rep. Walden supports correcting the current complications from court decisions that have led to children being separated from their parents,” spokesman Justin Discigil said.

Walden voted for a conservative immigration bill on Thursday that failed when it was opposed by 41 Republicans — including Dan Newhouse, Dave Reichert and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. All Democrats opposed the bill.

Walden’s Democratic opponent in the November general election, Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne, said the congressman was on the wrong side of a moral issue.

“Children are being torn from the arms of their parents and put in cages,” McLeod-Skinner said. “Walden’s response? Supporting Trump’s policy, blaming past presidents, and issuing a statement that Congress will ‘consider legislation that takes steps towards improving security.’”

Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, said that from a strictly political standpoint, he wasn’t surprised how Walden and Buehler handled the situation.

“Walden works and lives in D.C., and he is a member of the Republican leadership,” Moore said. “That doesn’t leave him a lot of wiggle room to get out front on an issue like this, especially since it isn’t one of his central issues. If it was something like federal land use and Trump took an action he disagreed with, then he would be more likely to take a public stance.”

Moore said Buehler, on the other hand, has to “thread the needle” between holding on to as many Republican voters as possible while appealing to Democrats and nonaffiliated voters who make up the bulk of the electorate.

“Buehler wants to be governor, and that means he has to stick up for the state and its values if the president is counter to those values,” Moore said. “The problem for him is that for many anti-immigration Republicans, what he said is too much, and for most Democrats, it’s not enough.”

—Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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