WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Vowing to “stop this craziness,” President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged tougher immigration measures based on “merit” after the deadly truck attack in New York City.
Speaking before a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Trump said he will ask Congress to “immediately” begin work to terminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which Homeland Security confirmed was used by the alleged attacker to enter the United States.
“We will take all necessary steps to protect our people and our communities and to protect our nation as a whole,” Trump said. “We have to get tough, we have to get smart, we have to do what’s right to protect our citizens. We will never waver in the defense of our beloved country, ever.”
Trump also again said “political correctness” was standing in the way of fighting terrorism.
“We have to get much tougher, much smarter, and we have to get much less politically correct,” Trump said. “We’re so politically correct that we’re afraid to do anything.”
Officials said the alleged attacker, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, is an immigrant from Uzbekistan who came to the United States legally in 2010. Saipov lived in apartment complex in Tampa, Florida before moving to New Jersey. FBI agents are now examining his Paterson home where neighbors say he lived for the last few months with his wife and two young children.
Trump called the alleged attacker an “animal” and said he will consider sending him to the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“I would certainly consider that. Send him to Gitmo,” Trump said.
The diversity visa program covers immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.
“Diversity lottery – sounds nice. It’s not nice. It’s not good. It’s not good. We’ve been against it,” Trump said.
Earlier in a tweet, Trump called the program “a Chuck Schumer beauty” — a reference to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) who helped craft an immigration reform bill in 1990.
Before taking to the Senate floor, Schumer fired back with his own tweet, saying, “I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy.”
While addressing the media Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also accused Trump of politicizing the event and said the president’s tweets were not helpful and not factual, in his opinion.
“I am not bothered that the president didn’t call,” said Cuomo. “I am bothered by an attempt by anyone to try to politicize this situation. That plays right into the hands of the terrorists. They’re trying to disrupt, they’re trying to create mayhem, they’re trying to divide. The point is to do the opposite … is to unite, normalcy … to proceed as one. So to politicize this event I think is wholly counterproductive.”
Trump also tweeted: “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).” Trump has backed legislation that would curb legal immigration and shift the nation toward a system that would place an emphasis on merit and skills over family ties.
The tweets followed Trump’s Tuesday night statement that he ordered the Department of Homeland Security “to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program.”
Trump’s policy entails more stringent investigative measures intended to identify would-be immigrants who may sympathize with extremists or pose a national security risk to the United States.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump proposed a total ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S., before embracing “extreme vetting.” Trump’s efforts to block immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries have been tied up in litigation in federal courts.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the source of Trump’s tweet. Trump cited “Fox and Friends” on Twitter as he attacked Schumer and the program. Trump added: “We will stop this craziness.”
The diversity visa program provides up to 50,000 visas annually by lottery to people from countries with low immigration rates. No one country gets more than 7 percent of the visas.
Applicants must have a high school diploma or meet work experience requirements. It was created as part of a bipartisan immigration bill introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
As a member of the House of Representatives at the time, Schumer proposed a program for “diversity immigrants” in a bill he offered earlier that year, CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported.
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Schumer said he has “always believed that immigration is good for America.” He also again criticized Trump for “politicizing” the deadly attack, comparing his response to President George. W. Bush’s after 9/11.
“President Trump, where is your leadership?” Schumer said. “The contrast between President Bush’s actions after 9/11 and President Trump’s actions this morning could not be starker.”
He said Trump had proposed cutting anti-terrorism funding in his most recent budget.
“I’m calling on President Trump to rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding immediately,” Schumer said. “Instead of dividing, instead of politicizing do something real, Mr. President. Restore these funds now.”
Schumer said the NYPD relies on the funding to keep New York City safe.
“The NYPD who bravely and quickly responded to the scene yesterday and brought the mayhem to the end depends on this anti-terrorism funding to keep our city safe day in and day out,” Schumer said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on Twitter that Trump was unfairly blaming Schumer for the diversity visa program. Flake, one of Trump’s chief Republican foes in Congress, said Schumer was among a group of eight Republican and Democratic senators who proposed eliminating the program three years ago as part of a broader bipartisan bill to overhaul U.S. immigration laws.
Flake, who served on that “Gang of Eight” with Schumer, said: “I know. I was there.”
The immigration bill ultimately failed in the GOP-led House after passing the Senate in June 2013, 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats.
Flake recently announced he’s not running for re-election but says he won’t be silent about Trump’s politics and behavior.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)