US president Donald Trump has told House Republicans he is "1,000 per cent" behind their rival immigration bills, providing little clear direction for party leaders searching for a way to defuse the escalating controversy over family separations at the southern border.
Republican politicians, increasingly fearful of a voter backlash in November, met with Mr Trump for about an hour at the Capitol to try to find a solution that both holds to Mr Trump's hard-line immigration policy and ends the practice of taking migrant children from parents charged with entering the country illegally.
It is uncertain if Mr Trump's support will be enough to push any legislation through the divided Republican majority.
Many politicians say Mr Trump could simply reverse the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy and keep families together.
While Mr Trump held firm to his tough immigration stance in an earlier appearance on Tuesday, he acknowledged during the closed-door meeting that the coverage of family separations is taking a toll.
Mr Trump said his daughter, Ivanka, had told him the situation with the families looks bad, one politician said.
"He said, 'Politically, this is bad'," said Representative Randy Weber. "It's not about the politics, this is the right thing to do."
As Mr Trump walked out of the closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement, he was confronted by about a half-dozen House Democrats, who yelled, "Stop separating our families!"
Leaders in both the House and Senate are struggling to shield the party's politicians from the public outcry over images of children taken from migrant parents and held in cages at the border.
But they are running up against Mr Trump's shifting views on specifics and his determination, according to advisers, not to look soft on his signature immigration issue, the border wall.
Representative Kristi Noem said Mr Trump told politicians he "would continue to support the legislation, and that people shouldn't be worried that he would change his mind".
Even if Republicans manage to pass an immigration bill through the House, which is a tall order, the fight is all but certain to fizzle in the Senate.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York, is adamant that Mr Trump can end the family separations on his own and that legislation is not needed.
Without Democratic support, Republicans cannot muster the 60 votes needed to move forward on legislation.
Mr Schumer said with most Americans against family separations, it is Republicans "feeling the heat on this issue, and that's why they're squirming".
In the House, Republican leaders scrambled to produce a revised version of the broader immigration bill that would keep children in detention longer than now permitted - but with their parents.
The major change unveiled on Tuesday would loosen rules that now limit the amount of time minors can be held to 20 days, according to a Republican source familiar with the measure.
Instead, the children could be detained with their parents for extended periods.
The revised provision would also give Department of Homeland Security the authority to use seven billion dollars in border technology funding to pay for family detention centres, said the source.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans are rallying behind a different approach. Theirs is narrow legislation proposed by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their deportation proceedings.
Mr Cruz's bill would double the number of federal immigration judges, authorise new temporary shelters to house migrant families and limit the processing of asylum cases to no more than 14 days - a goal immigrant advocates say would be difficult to meet.
"While cases are pending, families should stay together," tweeted Mr Cruz, who is in an unexpectedly tough re-election battle.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he is reaching out to Democrats for bipartisan backing.
Under the administration's current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution - a process that moves adults to the custody of the US Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.
More than 2,300 minors were separated from their children at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The House is to vote later this week on two bills that address broader immigration issues to protect young immigrant "Dreamers" from deportation and fund Mr Trump's border wall.
US president Donald Trump has told House Republicans he is “1,000 per cent” behind their rival immigration bills, providing little clear direction for party leaders searching for a way to defuse the escalating controversy over family separations at the southern border.