Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said unequivocally in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday that children at U.S. border crossings should stay with their parents.
The Republican’s remarks, his first direct comments about the ongoing immigration issue, were more forceful than the statement released by his office on Monday that said he was reviewing the matter.
“We want to make sure that kids stay with their parents,” he said. “I’m a father. The kids stay with their parents.”
Poliquin’s statement did not come during a news conference or an interview with a reporter but rather was made to a woman from an advocacy group, Mainers for Accountable Leadership, who approached the congressman at an airport.
The woman, Marcella Makinen, introduces herself to Poliquin, who asks immediately if her camera is on.
She tells him it is and then explains that she’s from Maine. He replies, “Great,” and then starts to walk away.
Makinen follows him with the camera still on and says, “I want to let you know that I’m really concerned about the children being separated from their parents.”
Poliquin explains that he doesn’t appreciate the camera in his face and tells the woman to explain what her issue is, while he continues to walk away.
“I’m really concerned about the children,” Makinen starts to say.
“Yeah, so am I,” Poliquin replies.
Makinen then asks what his position is. He then stops and says twice that kids should stay with parents.
“You can turn that off,” he said. “You don’t have to put that in my face, that’s very rude.”
A growing number of lawmakers, mainly Republicans, have faced increasing pressure to denounce the Trump administration’s policy of removing children from parents when stopped at the U.S. border with Mexico, even as Trump and his allies have alternately defended the practice and, falsely, blamed Democrats.
While all 47 Senate Democrats, as well as Maine independent Sen. Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, have signed onto a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the Keep Families Together Act, no Senate Republicans have to date.
Poliquin’s public comment comes just one day before a rally planned in front of his office in Bangor. Other members of Maine’s delegation have already forcefully denounced the separation of children from parents by border agents.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Monday called the practice “inhumane.” King said it was an “obscene practice” and spoke on the Senate floor Monday on the issue.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District, has been outspoken on the issue for more than a month. She, too, called the practice “inhumane” and said Congress could fix it immediately.
Poliquin, who often avoids interacting with the media, has had one other memorable experience where he was approached in public.
Last May, a reporter for Slate relayed an encounter he had with Poliquin in Washington. The reporter, Jim Newell, approached the congressman as he was leaving a House Republican conference meeting. Poliquin ignored the reporter and “made a beeline to the restroom,” Newell wrote. “Unfortunately, it was the door to the women’s restroom that he had first run to, so he corrected himself and went into the men’s room. When he emerged several minutes later, he was wearing his earbuds and scurried away.”
That summer, in a secret audio recording, Poliquin told supporters that he avoids speaking on the record with the press because he’s afraid he would lose his seat in the next election.
“You think the press is bad in Maine? It’s unbelievable and they are dying to get you on record to say whatever and that becomes the next, so …” Poliquin said, explaining why he doesn’t talk to reporters. “It would be stupid for me to engage the national media and give them and everybody else the ammunition they need.”
Poliquin was first elected to Congress in 2014, after the seat was vacated by Mike Michaud. Poliquin was re-elected in 2016 and is seeking a third term in November.
His Democratic opponent is likely to be former state Rep. Jared Golden, who had the most votes during last week’s primary but didn’t quite reach the 50 percent needed under Maine’s new ranked-choice voting system.
Two independents, Tiffany Bond of Portland and Will Hoar of Southwest Harbor, also are on the ballot.