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Bill Nelson and Rick Scott swap brickbats on family separation policy

The race for U.S. Senate in Florida is a brawl over immigration.
Published Jun. 20, 2018|Updated Jun. 20, 2018

First, Gov. Rick Scott fired off a letter to the Trump administration Tuesday evening, criticizing the president's "zero tolerance" policy of splitting up families at the border — but again without mentioning the president's name.

An hour later, Scott's U.S. Senate campaign blasted his opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson, accusing him of favoring open borders. (Nelson has not said he's for open borders. The main obstructionists to immigration reform are Republicans in the House).

"Now Bill Nelson has signed on to a bill in the Senate which would make 'catch and release' our new law at the border. This extremely liberal idea is a recipe for an open border," Scott's campaign said. "Bill Nelson favors 'catch and release'; I favor 'catch and send back.' So yes, there's a legitimate disagreement."

In what looks like a sign of the escalating political tensions, Scott's rhetoric has become increasingly heated on the family separation issue.

On Monday, Scott said: "I do not favor separating families." On Tuesday, in his letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Scott used stronger language: "This practice needs to stop now."

On a day when a Democratic candidate for governor, Gwen Graham, demanded that Scott sue the White House over the separation policy and to provide free legal assistance to immigrant families, Scott told HHS: "The state of Florida stands ready to assist in this process. Please inform me of any measures the state can facilitate to help the reunification process."

Scott must walk a fine line: Criticize the breakup of families without criticizing Trump directly, and express outrage that breakups are taking place in his state without looking like he's not a hands-on executive (the governor was in Puerto Rico when the furor erupted Tuesday).

A bit later Tuesday night, it was Nelson's turn to throw a punch in which he tried to make Scott appear clueless.

"President Trump could end this policy with the stroke of a pen," Nelson's campaign said. "If Gov. Scott really cared about these kids, he would have written this letter to Trump asking him to end this policy instead of asking HHS to confirm what we already know."

Amid all of the outrage over the feds putting young children in a shelter in Homestead, Scott also made clear that HHS alerted state authorities and members of Congress four months ago that it was reopening the South Florida facility.

It was in a two-sentence email on Feb. 7 from Karen Jordan at HHS' regional office in Atlanta.


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