White House

Trump defends border patrol agents, need for citizenship question on census

‘Certain members of Congress say very bad things and lie and exaggerate,’ he said in defense of Customs and Border Patrol

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media prior to his departure from the White House July 5, 2019, in Washington, DC. President Trump and the first lady will spend their weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump, departing the White House on Friday for a weekend at his New Jersey country club, celebrated the “fantastic evening” he had saluting the country during a July 4 speech from the National Mall, while facing questions about his controversial immigration policies. 

Many Democrats criticizing  Trump’s Independence Day celebration cited the poor optics of a military showcase amid reports of mistreatment of migrants being held at facilities along the border as they await their asylum claims to be processed. But Trump, speaking to reporters outside of the White House Friday before boarding Marine One, said he thinks Customs and Border Patrol agents who run many of the  shelters where migrants are held “do a great job with those facilities.”

[Trump delivers unifying July 4 message, but few see it helping reelection]

Trump said he had not seen the CBP Facebook groups where current and former members of the Department of Homeland Security-run agency allegedly criticized migrants and Democratic members of Congress. Still, he sought to defend the CBP agents and criticize those attacking them.

“I think that the border patrol has been treated very, very badly by certain members of Congress,” Trump said.

“Certain members of Congress say very bad things and lie and exaggerate,” he added without providing names or examples.

[Trump touts American exceptionalism in July Fourth speech on National Mall]

‘Tell them not to come’

The president declined to directly acknowledge the poor conditions  migrants are facing at CBP facilities, as confirmed by an independent inspector general report this week. But Trump offered an idea on how to take care of any problems migrants have: “Tell them not to come.”

Trump has made clear that he’d like to change asylum laws in a way that would discourage migrants from coming to the United States in the first place. 

The president told reporters he is also planning to move forward with plans to have the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency round up and deport undocumented immigrants.

“I don’t call them raids,” Trump said. “I say they came in illegally and we’re bringing them out legally. These are people where we have the papers, we’ve gone through the court system. They’ll be starting fairly soon, but I don’t call them raids.”

Later Trump noted that the administration has already started the removal process and has been enforcing deportation orders “for a long time.”

“Thousands and thousands of people will be legally removed from the country,” he said.

‘You need’ citizenship question

Trump also defended his continued push to get a citizenship question added to the 2020 census. The president on Wednesday overruled a decision his own Justice and Commerce departments made to abandon the effort to include the question. 

“You need it for Congress, for [re]districting,” he said. “You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going?”

Many Republicans have echoed the point that Trump was trying to articulate — that the question is needed to ensure that only citizens who can vote are counted for purposes of determining congressional district boundaries. 

Democrats, however, have said the citizenship question would likely deter people, even some citizens, from participating in the survey and lead to an undercount of the population.

Trump said he spoke Friday with Attorney General William Barr before leaving the White House and the Justice Department chief briefed him on legal options for continuing to try to add the citizenship question after the Supreme Court ruled the administration had yet to provide a sufficient justification for it.

“We have four or five ways we can do it,” Trump said, noting an executive order is “one of the ways.” He later added that he could decide to use one of the options or all of them.

The uncertainty over the citizenship question does not need to delay preparations for the census, Trump argued.

“We can start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision,” he said.

Drug pricing executive order

In addition to the possibility of an executive order on the citizenship question, Trump said his administration would soon announce a new drug pricing executive order. 

The president referred to the proposal his administration is developing as “a favorite nations clause” that would somehow allow the U.S. to pay the lowest drug prices charged to other nations or companies. Trump did not provide further details of how he planned to execute that proposal.

Despite the immigration questions, it was clear Trump on Friday wanted to boast about the previous evening’s “Salute to America” event. As he often does, he noted the large crowd gathered for the celebration and surmised that everyone present had a good time.

Trump’s speech highlighted the history of each of the branches of the military and featured flyovers by jets and helicopters from each of the services, including an Air Force B2 stealth bomber.

“It was really a recruitment situation,” Trump said.

“We’re going to have a lot of people being recruited based on that, we’re going to have a lot of people joining our military,” he predicted.

Trump also commented on Iran, warning the country to “be very, very careful”; China, saying the communist nation wants to make a trade deal even though it already broke one; and  North Korea, citing his good relationship with its leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump repeated an unproven claim that former President Barack Obama tried several times to meet with Kim only to be denied.

“During President Obama they were doing nuclear testing. They were sending missiles. Right now everything is nice and quiet,” Trump said, trying to argue that his approach is working despite evidence to the contrary.

One of the last questions Trump was asked as he departed the White House was whether he planned to watch the final game of the Women’s World Cup Sunday when the United States and the Netherlands will face off for the championship. 

The president said he didn’t know if he would be able to watch the game but he wished the U.S. team good luck, saying, “I hope they do well. I hope they win.” 

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