President Donald Trump said the suspect in the deadliest terror attack in New York City since 2001 should be executed, adding that the man asked to hang an Islamic State flag in his hospital room where he is recovering from gunshot wounds.
"NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!, the president said in a post to Twitter late Wednesday night.
Earlier in the day, Trump called on Congress to end the visa program that allowed the suspect to enter the country and said he’d consider sending the alleged assailant to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Trump said he wants to end the Diversity Visa Lottery Program and “get rid of chain migration,” where immigrants petition for their relatives to enter the U.S. The suspected attacker was “the primary point of contact” for 23 people that came into the country, Trump told reporters, citing preliminary information.
“We also have to come up with punishment that is far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now,” Trump said. “They’ll go through court for years, at the end — who knows what happens.” He added, “What we have right now is a joke.”
Trump said he “would certainly consider” sending the suspect out of the country to Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects captured outside the U.S. have been detained. No one arrested in the U.S. has ever been sent to the prison camp and there hasn’t been a detainee sent there from overseas since 2008.
The president also said Wednesday night on Twitter that his administration would be "immediately implementing much tougher Extreme Vetting Procedures. The safety of our citizens comes first!," an assertion he made in the hours after the attack.
Trump started the day seeking to lay blame for the attack on Democrats, specifically Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, for backing bipartisan legislation in 1990 that created the visa program. In a tweet Wednesday morning. Trump called the visa program “a Chuck Schumer beauty,” adding, “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”
The Department of Homeland Security confirmed the suspect in the attack, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, was in the U.S. legally on a visa under the diversity lottery program.
The president’s response fit his pattern of responding swiftly to apparent terror attacks with demands for tougher immigration laws and with blame for other politicians. But Trump left out that the New York Democrat later sponsored another broad immigration plan that included among its provisions elimination of the program. That 2013 legislation was blocked by the Republican-controlled House.
“President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be bringing us together,” Schumer said Wednesday on the Senate floor.
Schumer criticized the president’s proposal to cut funding by 25 percent for the Urban Area Security Initiative, which helps high-risk cities such as New York prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism. He said Trump should “rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorist funding immediately.”
Trump’s tweet also drew ire from his own party. Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who has publicly battled Trump, responded to the president’s tweet, saying Schumer had been part of a 2013 effort in the Senate to end the visa program. Their bill was blocked by House Republicans.
“Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there,” Flake, who’s leaving the Senate when his term ends, tweeted Wednesday morning.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, jabbed at Trump for politicizing the tragedy.
“You play into the hands of the terrorist to the extent that you disrupt and divide and frighten people in this society,” Cuomo said a news conference in New York. “This not a time for politics. This is not a time to point fingers,” he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later said Trump doesn’t blame Schumer or hold him responsible for the attack. She said adding Uzbekistan to the list of countries on the U.S. travel ban list “may be something that’s looked at.”
Authorities identified the suspect in Tuesday’s attack as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old who came to the U.S. from Uzbekistan in 2010. He allegedly drove a pickup truck onto a bicycle path in the Tribeca neighborhood near the World Trade Center, killing eight people.
Sanders said that the incident underscored the need for tougher reviews of potential immigrants, a process the administration has called “extreme vetting.” Sanders said that process would include enhancing collection and review of biometric and biographical data as well as intelligence sharing.
The visa program became a target of conservative media overnight, and Trump’s attack against Schumer echoed articles on such websites as Breitbart News and discussions Wednesday on Fox News.
Congressional Republicans have generally favored getting rid of the diversity visa program. Representative Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called it “a threat to the safety of our citizens.” Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue proposed eliminating it in their immigration bill, the RAISE Act.
While Democrats have previously favored ending the program, it’s not clear how this will affect negotiations over the fate of people brought into the country illegally as children and are eligible for an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Lawmakers have been working toward reaching a deal by the end of the year that would combine a solution for those immigrants with border security measures. But throwing in an end to the diversity program could risk Democratic support.
Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican leader, told reporters that he is supportive of ending the visa program and moving to a merit-based immigration system, but he doesn’t favor bringing that issue into discussions about a year-end deal combining deportation protections for young immigrants and bolstered resources for border security.
“It’s clearly a part of visa reform that I think you do need to do, but I don’t think it’s feasible to draw a connection with DACA,” he said, referring to the program that provided the protections for about 800,000 young immigrants.
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