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Christie to Trump: ‘Zero Tolerance’ Border Policy Damaging to GOP, ‘Not Worth It’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks about the national opioid crisis outside the West Wing of the White House on Oct. 27, 2017. (Alex Edelman/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2016, urged President Trump to abandon the “zero tolerance” policy that has led to the separation of children from their parents who were caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally at the border.

Christie was asked if Trump should be using the policy as “leverage” to get Democrats to the table on immigration reform.

“I don’t think he’s saying that he’s using it as leverage, I think what he’s saying is that he wants a complete immigration bill, that without a complete immigration bill he’s just going to enforce the law as it’s written. And he is correct that the law as written now, if enforced to its fullest, permits what’s happening down there. But let’s put all that aside, because we’re here to talk about politics – and politics is about perception, and this is not a good perception for the Republican Party; it’s just not,” Christie said during a discussion on Monday at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition 2018 State Leaders Summit.

“And what I would say to the president is, if in fact he’s doing it purely for the leverage piece, I would say to him, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it because the damage that you’re incurring because of these images is drowning out whatever message you want to try to get across on the need for greater immigration reform and his push for other laws that would, also, by the way, include protections for DREAMers and all the rest,” he added. “He’s talked about being willing to do that if he gets some things in return.”

The Trump administration has pushed for border wall funding and other restrictions on immigration in return for protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries from deportation.

Christie said the separation of families could be harmful to Democrats if they are perceived as “overplaying” the issue.

“I think the one risk for Democrats, too, is to overplay it and this is always the risk of the minority party,” he said. “If you overplay some of these things in a way that the public believes and are emotional about – and they are emotional about this and should be – if they feel like you are overplaying it… that’s like dynamite. If you overplay it and you are seen as being really political for your own advantage, then people are going to boomerang that back on you.”

Christie added, “I don’t believe that using this in any way politically is appropriate, and I think that what we really need to do is solve the problem.”

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean described the “zero tolerance” policy as a “wedge issue” that’s very “complicated for the electorate,” adding that it would likely hurt Trump with female voters.

“His base is interestingly, I think, somewhat divided on this,” Dean said at the summit. “I think women, particularly, because often many of them being mothers, see this business of the separation and the kids and all that in a different way than men do in Trump’s base.”

The former DNC chair continued, “I don’t think this business of blaming the Democrats is going to work. A lot of times when he does things like that it does work. I don’t think this is going to work. He’s playing with dynamite. He’s playing with a core American value that I think actually most Americans share, even those on very different sides of the Republican-Democratic divide.”

Dean predicted that the midterm elections would be a referendum on Trump and that the Democrats would take back the majority in the House.

Christie was hesitant to compare the upcoming midterms to past elections because Trump is in office.

“The reason this has a chance to be different is because the president seems to have, at least at the moment, had the ability by attacking a lot of institutions of this town, to live here for the last, almost 18 months, but to not seem ‘of here’ and to not completely own everything that’s happened,” Christie said.

“I think what the president will attempt to do is to say, when people say, ‘geez, things are awful in Washington, they’re terrible,’ he’ll say, ‘see, I told you, I told you how bad it was, don’t make it worse – give me the people I need so I can actually straighten it out,’ almost ignoring the fact he’s had legislative majorities since he got here but he has the ability to do that,” he added.

Christie continued, “Believe me, I ran against him, I understand his ability to be able to say something, and really believe it, even if there are some facts that seem to be contrary to exactly what he said, right? So I think that’s why this has the chance to be different and not necessarily be a pure referendum on the president.”

Dean cautioned Democrats against campaigning on impeachment of Trump.

“My own view is until you have a case for impeachment you can’t talk about impeachment just because you can’t stand somebody – and I just think we should stick to the issues,” Dean said to applause.

“Impeachment is the atom bomb, the Founding Fathers – a phrase I can’t stand now in the age of equality – we hope, but they basically set up the Constitution for somebody like Trump who is going to come in and run over everybody and do whatever he could outside of institutions,” he added. “And now we’re going to find out if the institutions were strong enough. But impeachment is the atom bomb of removal – you do not use it until you have an absolute hardline case to convince a majority of the American people.”