President Donald Trump used a charity dinner honoring military troops Tuesday to deliver a campaign-style attack on Democrats, saying again that they want to “abandon” federal personnel who patrol the country’s borders.
“You have to be tough. … We need tough laws, we need fair laws,” Trump said in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. “But when these people come in … illegally, and they’re dispersed across the country, and you see nests of MS-13. … it’s like you’re liberating towns. And we send ICE in.”
He was referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has become a major midterm election issue since the administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents caught illegally entering the country became a crisis. That’s because some Democrats — including likely presidential candidates such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — have called for the agency to be terminated.
Watch: This 4th of July, Expect Trump to be Trump on Immigration
Other Democrats have called for big changes within ICE. And Trump said Sunday he is confident voters will punish them in November.
“We respect ICE. … They take them out of there so fast,” he said of ICE agents and undocumented migrants. “Like in a war, you’re liberating a town, an area. Sometimes they have to go in swinging. They don’t mind. They’re tough.”
Immigration policy experts dispute the president’s frequent claims that the United States has, in his words, an “immigration crisis” and that MS-13 gang members are taking over large swaths of the country. But the president keeps trying to paint Democratic incumbents and other candidates as putting undocumented migrants’ interests ahead of those of American citizens.
“I hear Democrats say, ‘We want to abandon ICE,’” he said, inaccurately quoting most Democrats. “We’re not abandoning. Just the opposite.”
His campaign-like comments Tuesday came during a part of his remarks at The Greenbrier resort during a charity military appreciation dinner that is part of the festivities for an annual PGA Tour event there.
Notably, Trump did not mention Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, who faces a tough re-election fight in the Mountain State. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his race against state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey a Toss-up.
Meantime, Trump has spoken to seven candidates about the coming U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters Tuesday on Air Force One during the short flight to West Virginia, according to a pool report. He interviewed four on Monday and three on Tuesday, according to the White House.
Trump still plans to announce his pick next Monday, Gidley added before the president said the same once he took the the stage. Trump again said he intends to nominate someone in the mold of Neil Gorsuch, his solidly conservative high court pick, who was confirmed by the Senate last year.
And, in a political clip-and-save moment, West Virginia GOP Gov. Jim Justice introduced Trump on Tuesday.
“This feels pretty comfortable, to tell you the truth,” Justice said of the familiar blue podium affixed with the presidential seal.
“He’s a big man,” Trump said a few minutes later, after the two exchanged hugs. “Big Jim. … He did switch from Democrat to Republican.” So, too, did Trump.
And the president appeared to utter another false statement, saying he plans to watch the PGA event from the White House this weekend. But Federal Aviation Administration flight restrictions over his Bedminster, New Jersey, resort suggest otherwise. Trump is likely to be at the Garden State golf club through Sunday, possibly till the late afternoon as is his custom for returning to the White House.