President Donald Trump says that U.S. military personnel “don’t have to fire” at migrants if they throw rocks as they attempt to cross the border, walking back comments Thursday where he seemed to threaten force against alleged unruly members of the approaching caravan.
Asked on Thursday whether the troops he’s ordered to the border might fire on migrants, Trump initially told reporters, “They’re throwing rocks viciously and violently. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military is going to fight back … we will consider that a firearm.”
Reporters pressed Trump on Friday to explain the rules of engagement between U.S. military personnel and a migrant caravan traveling through Mexico.
“They don’t have to fire,” Trump said during a gaggle with reporters on the South Lawn as he left the Oval Office to embark on a campaign swing through West Virginia and Indiana. “What I don’t want is — I don’t want these people throwing rocks.”
“What they did to the Mexican military is a disgrace,” the president continued. “They hit them with rocks. Some were very seriously injured and they are throwing rocks in their face. They do that with us, they’re going to be arrested, there’s going to be problems. I didn’t say shoot. I didn’t say shoot. But they do that with us, they’re going to be arrested for a long time. We will arrest them.”
While Trump has relied on his tough immigration rhetoric to whip supporters into a frenzy at dozens of campaign stops, the president worked to shift his final campaign message to the “tremendous” economy, just four days before next week’s critical midterm elections.
“I will say that we had tremendous job numbers today,” Trump boasted, pointing at record-low unemployment and strong wage growth. “It was just released 250,000 new jobs created in the month of October. That was shocking for a lot of people. That was a tremendous number by any standard.”
But the majority of questions that Trump fielded Friday centered around immigration. After signaling that he will sign an executive order to end birthright citizenship in the United States, Trump said the controversy will be decided by the Supreme Court.
The election results could potentially hamstring Trump’s presidency if Democrats seize the House or Senate, splitting up the Republican grip on power in the nation’s capital, but Trump said “sure” he could work with Rep. Nancy Pelosi if she is elected speaker, including on immigration reform.
“The problem is, it’s a stupid [immigration] system, and it doesn’t work and the Democrats and the Republicans could change it immediately. We could do it in one day,” Trump predicted. “We could have it fixed, but the Democrats don’t want to do it because they’re playing politics.”