Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley called for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign Monday after accusing her of telling "a lot of whoppers" at a contentious White House press briefing where she defended the Trump administration's practice of separating children from their parents at the border.
Appearing on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront," the Oregon senator, who had spent Father's Day touring Customs and Border Protection processing centers in the Rio Grande Valley, said that "if she's going to tell whoppers like that and keep repeating them, then she simply needs to step down. We need somebody there with integrity."
Asked by Burnett if he was outright calling for her resignation, Merkley said "absolutely, 100%."
"She's not being honest with Americans and it's so absolutely clear," he continued. "She's contradicting her President, she's contradicting her chief of staff, she's contradicting the attorney general and just making up these arguments as she goes. So yeah, absolutely,"
Merkley's demand came after he challenged multiple assertions that Nielsen made during the press briefing.
"She said there's no strategy of deterrence, yet that's exactly what John Kelly and Jeff Sessions argued was the purpose of this, was to send a message to families overseas not to come to America," he argued. "She said this is about smugglers. Clearly when children are safely in the United States they're not at risk of smugglers. That was a whopper. She said this is not being used as a pawn for legislation, yet that's exactly what the President said it was, that this was legislative leverage."
Merkley also claimed Nielsen had misled the public when she said the border was still open to individuals seeking asylum, which he called a "whopper of omission."
"The ports of entry for those seeking asylum have been blocked," he said. "I went out there yesterday with a group of six other members of Congress. We saw the border guard standing there checking papers and only letting those across the bridge who already had visas to come into the United States, or American passports and so forth. They were blocking those who didn't have papers, who would be asserting themselves for asylum. So they're essentially forcing people to cross the border illegally or leave them stranded (on the) very dangerous Mexican side of the border."
Merkley added: "It's a big coordinated strategy to result in tearing, well, children away from their parents to send a political message, or to create legislative leverage. That is not, not acceptable under any moral code, to hurt children and parents in that fashion."
Nielsen denied that taking children away from their parents at the border amounts to "child abuse" and said there are "high standards" at the detention facilities. She also repeatedly claimed that it is not a DHS policy and that the agency is simply enforcing the current law.