WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in a wide ranging sit-down interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said “we’ll see what happens,” when asked about efforts to renew the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Trump was responding to a question from host Chuck Todd about whether he would ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support passage of a House-panel approved measure to permanently fund the $4.6 billion federal program for first responders sickened from their rescue and recovery work in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“You know it's a very complicated subject for a lot of reasons,” Trump said of the fund that was last renewed by lawmakers in 2015 and is set to expire in 2020.
The president said he planned to hold a meeting on the issue, noting that he liked comedian Jon Stewart’s advocacy work on behalf of the 9/11 first responders. Earlier this month, Stewart made an impassioned plea in testimony before lawmakers, urging them to permanently extend the fund. The House Judiciary Committee has since passed a bipartisan bill to enshrine the fund, which has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to move forward with a full House vote.
McConnell (R-Ky.) has been noncommittal about making the fund permanent.
“Gosh. I haven't looked at that lately," McConnell told reporters earlier this month of the fund. "We've always dealt with that in a compassionate way, and I assume we will again, but I haven't looked at it lately."
After Todd pressed Trump further, noting that money for the fund was set to run out, the president responded: “Memorials have been, have been built,” before he moved on to take another question.
In the 30-minute interview, Trump also addressed the 2020 presidential race. Trump said he “may” bring up the issue of Russian election interference with President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit next week, and named former Vice President Joe Biden as his preferred rival in the field of Democratic candidates.
When asked what he would change from his first term in office if given the chance, Trump said “personnel,” adding that his appointment of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Justice Department’s Russia probe in 2017, was his “biggest mistake.”
“I would say if I had one do over, it would be, I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be attorney general,” Trump said.
The president continued to defend his administration’s hard-line immigration policies. A day before the pretaped interview aired, Trump announced he would delay imminent immigration raids in 10 U.S. cities for the next two weeks to give Congress time to deliver a legislative fix to the influx of migrants seeking asylum at the United States' southern border.
Asked about reports that detained minors were being held in unsanitary conditions without access to soap and toothbrushes, Trump said: “We're doing a fantastic job under the circumstances,” and called on lawmakers to approve additional border security funding.