National News

‘Womp Womp’: Lewandowski Mocks Child With Down Syndrome Separated From Mother

Posted June 20, 2018 3:06 p.m. EDT

Of all the recent stories about the separation of immigrant children and parents at the U.S. border with Mexico, the Mexican foreign minister said Tuesday that one story was particularly heartbreaking: A 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome was taken away from her mother in South Texas.

But Corey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, offered a different response when he heard about the girl while appearing on Fox News on Tuesday night. “Womp womp,” he said.

Lewandowski was appearing on “The Story With Martha MacCallum” opposite Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist. Petkanas was telling the story of the girl when Lewandowski interrupted him with what amounted to a “sad trombone” sound effect.

“Did you say, ‘womp womp,’ to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome being taken from her mother?” Petkanas responded. “How dare you! How dare you!”

“What I said is you can pick anything you want to, but the bottom line is very clear: When you cross the border illegally you have given up the rights of that country,” Lewandowski said, as the two guests talked over each other. “When you cross the border illegally, when you commit a crime, you are taken away from your family because that’s how this country works.”

Reached on Wednesday morning, Lewandowski said he had no comment and would address the matter later on Fox News. In an appearance on the network’s “America’s Newsroom,” Lewandowski refused to apologize for his remarks, blamed Petkanas for “politicizing children” and said his “womp womp” response had nothing to do with the girl with Down syndrome.

“I was mocking Zac,” Lewandowski said.

He added that criticism for family separations should be directed at parents who crossed the border illegally and said it was the families of Americans killed by immigrants in the country illegally who were owed an apology.

Many called Lewandowski’s remarks heartless and said they reflected the lack of empathy inherent in the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which has separated thousands of children from their parents yet has failed to reduce the number of families trying to cross the border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday that the mother and her daughter were not separated because of the policy and that the mother was being held as a witness in a smuggling case. The agency said it was trying to reunite the girl with her mother “as soon as possible.”

Still, Lewandowski was roundly and swiftly criticized. Megyn Kelly, a former Fox News host who now works at NBC News, called him a coward. “This man should not be afforded a national platform to spew his hate,” Kelly said on Twitter.

His remarks also drew the ire of parents of children with Down syndrome. On Twitter, a father posted a photo of his daughter and addressed a note to Lewandowski: “Indeed, HOW DARE YOU?” A mother added: “My son Corey, who has Down syndrome, is twice the man as Mr. Womp Womp.” Bob Vander Plaats, a national co-chairman of Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and the president of the Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization, also criticized Lewandowski. He wrote a book about his son Lucas, who was born with a rare brain disorder.

“We MUST be better than this,” Vander Plaats wrote on Twitter.

Sara Hart Weir, the president of the National Down Syndrome Society, said that the separation of the girl from her mother was “a very serious matter” and that “we expect all individuals to work together and find solutions and put any political rhetoric aside to help this young girl.”

“Our hearts and prayers go out to this child and her family during this unprecedented and trying time,” Weir said Wednesday morning. “NDSS will work with the appropriate agencies to ensure she receives all the resources from us that she needs to help comfort her until she can be reunited with her father and eventually her whole family, where she belongs.”

Customs and Border Protection said that it came into contact with the girl, four of her siblings and her mother June 3 when they were stopped in a car. The driver of the car was a U.S. citizen who was trying to smuggle the family into the country, the department said.

Three of the children, who are U.S. citizens, were released to an aunt. The 10-year-old girl and a sibling were placed into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

While the mother told authorities she was in the country illegally, Customs and Border Protection said she had not been charged with a crime.

“The mother was not prosecuted, but is instead being held as a material witness to support the prosecution of the smuggler, which precipitated the separation of the two other children, both Mexican citizens,” the department said in a statement. “This smuggler has a criminal history including a flight, escape, aiding and abetting making it important that we prosecute.” Luis Videgaray, the foreign minister of Mexico, discussed the girl’s situation at a news conference in Mexico City on Tuesday and called the Trump administration’s separation policy “cruel and inhumane.” He said that the girl and her brother were sent to a facility in McAllen, Texas, while their mother was moved to Brownsville, about 60 miles away.

Mexican officials at a consulate in South Texas were trying to have the girl released and reunited with her father, a legal resident of the United States, Videgaray said.

“We cannot be indifferent before an act that clearly represents a violation of human rights and that puts into a vulnerable position minors, children, including those with disabilities,” Videgaray said at the news conference.

Elsewhere on cable news Tuesday, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow broke down on air as she read an Associated Press story about babies and young children who had been separated from their parents and sent to “tender age” shelters. She struggled to read more than a few words, her voice cracking as she started to cry.

“Sorry, that does it for us tonight,” Maddow said through tears as her show ended.