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Lou Barletta rolls with Trump, as president shifts policy at border

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta's political fortunes are linked to President Trump's, which has made for a bumpy June as Barletta tries to defeat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr.'s bid for a third term.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta with Donald Trump at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre during the presidential campaign.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta with Donald Trump at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre during the presidential campaign.Read moreChristopher Dolan / Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta's political fortunes in Pennsylvania are inextricably linked to President Trump's positions and performance on immigration policy.

In other words, Barletta — like Trump and the rest of the country — is having a topsy-turvy month.

Trump, after stepping up efforts to separate children from parents attempting to enter the country illegally, capitulated in the face of outrage and signed an order to end his own policy.

Barletta, like Trump, was for the policy before he was against it.

In an interview with KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh on June 15, Barletta echoed the administration's explanation that the policy was an effective deterrent and simple law enforcement.

By late last week, he was happy to put it in the past.

"I too didn't want to see children separated," Barletta said Friday. "I'm the father of four daughters and eight grandchildren. I didn't like it. I felt like most people."

Voters recoiled from the policy, revolted by vivid pictures of children kept in pens made of chain-link fence and audio of toddlers wailing for their parents. A Quinnipiac University National Poll released last Monday showed that 66 percent of the registered voters in the survey opposed separating children from parents who illegally enter the country.

Barletta's pertinacious reputation on immigration, from his time as mayor of Hazleton to his four terms in the U.S. House, is at center stage this year in his campaign to defeat Sen. Bob Casey's bid for a third term. He was an early backer of Trump's presidential bid and cochairman of his campaign in Pennsylvania.

Casey, a Democrat from Scranton, on Friday rapped Barletta as "wrong on policy" and inconsistent recently on how he would see it applied.

"That's something the voters will have to judge in the context of this campaign," Casey said. "But the idea that anyone from any party would try to defend the policy of separating children from parents is outrageous and insulting."

On immigration, Casey said the focus will remain on the Trump administration as long as parents are waiting to be reunited with their children.

While that happens, the House Republican leadership grapples with an immigration bill, cast as a compromise, that has further sparked intraparty division.

Trump backed a more conservative bill, which Barletta supported; it failed in a 231-193 vote Thursday.

Trump has been less consistent on the compromise bill, saying at different times this month that he supported it and opposed it.

A vote on the compromise bill was pushed back until this week but, by Friday, Trump had clearly given up on it. The president tweeted that "Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November."

Barletta calls that a "smart idea."

Trump's tweet also blamed Democrats in Congress for "playing games," even though the Republicans control both chambers. And Trump predicted a "Red Wave" of Republican victories in November, another stance with which Barletta is simpatico.

Barletta compared Democratic predictions of a "blue wave" of victories to a mirage in the desert. "There's no question the economy is on a roll," Barletta said. "I don't see a blue wave. In fact, I see the opposite. I don't know why people would want to reverse that trend."

Still, the immigration debate has seized the national narrative in an ever-cresting controversy.

"Illegal immigration is such an emotional issue," Barletta said. "That's why most politicians don't want to talk about it. They want to let it go."