Freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, the man who would take charge of the anti-Trump forces of the establishment Republicans upon taking office in January, turned some heads — particularly among conservatives — over the weekend by doing something he hasn't done much of in the past: praising Donald Trump and ripping Democrats for trying to thwart his agenda.
The issue of immigration, Romney told NBC News' Chuck Todd Sunday in his first "Meet the Press" appearance as a senator, is a "winning" issue for Trump and Republicans and a big loser for the Democrats. Trump, said the Utah senator, has effectively "tapped into something" people feel "very deeply": that the current situation at the border is simply unsustainable and national sovereignty matters.
Todd led into his immigration questions for Romney by playing a clip from Trump delivering his administration's "new statement" to immigrants: "The system is full. We can't take anymore. Whether it's asylum, whether it's ... illegal immigration, we can't take you anymore. Our country is full," said Trump.
Todd asked Romney to respond to Trump's assertion, which the host described as "jarring." Romney, however, had a far different take than Todd.
"We've seen a dramatic shift in the nature of immigration, and illegal immigration, just over the last few weeks," said the senator (video below). "A number of years ago, and up to just a few weeks ago, the great majority of people coming into our country were coming in looking for work — single men, and often times just returned at the border, sent back home, typically to Mexico."
"In the last few weeks, there's been a dramatic change, and that is we're seeing unaccompanied young people, as well as families with lots of kids, pouring into the border and they say the magic word: 'I'm seeking asylum,'" Romney continued. "And by virtue of our laws and processes here, we bring them into the country, we don't begin to have enough space in our facilities to maintain the kind of care these people deserve, and so they're just being turned out into our country — 125,000 of them so far this year. It's overwhelming our system. We have got to be able to deal with this in a way. It's going to take some legislation to get it fixed."
Todd then appeared to try to bait Romney into criticizing Trump, asking him if he agreed with Trump's hardline threats to Mexico and other central American countries to address the issue, finally asking Romney if he thinks Trump has the political "credibility" to get the Republicans and Democrats to work together to come up with a legislative solution.
But Romney said he does think Trump has the ability to bring the sides together. The goal, said Romney, is to make sure we're not creating this "asylum magnet" that's drawing people beyond our capacity to process them.
"In my opinion, the Democrats are making a huge error by making border security an issue and saying it's a partisan issue," said the senator. "Look, this is an American issue. We can't have millions upon millions of people flooding into our country without a border that's secure, without ICE making sure the people that are here illegally are sent back."
"This is a winning issue I think for Republicans, but more importantly, it's a winning issue for Americans to say, 'We have to have the sovereignty of our nation,'" he added. "I think the president has tapped into something which the people feel very deeply."
Watch the full interview below (via NBC News):