WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called Wednesday for an end to the visa lottery program that helped the assailant in the Manhattan terror attack to emigrate to the United States, singling out Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in tweets as a supporter of the two-decade-old initiative.
Trump also labeled the attacker an “animal” and said he would consider transferring him to Guantánamo Bay detention camp.
“Send him to Gitmo,” the president said, though Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said he “wasn’t necessarily advocating for it.”
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, an Uzbek immigrant, drove a truck into a crowded Manhattan bike path Tuesday and killed at least eight, the NYPD said. He came to the United States in 2010 and is a legal permanent resident, the NYPD said. Sanders called Saipov an “enemy combatant.”
The Department of Homeland Security confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Saipov “was admitted to the U.S. upon presentation of a passport with a valid diversity immigrant visa to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2010.”
Trump condemned the program in early morning tweets as “a Chuck Schumer” beauty, leading the Democratic lawmaker to criticize him in turn for politicizing a tragedy.
“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” Trump tweeted in one of two posts referencing his fellow native New Yorker.
“I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy,” Schumer tweeted in response, an apparent reference to the White House’s comments one month ago after the mass shooting in Las Vegas that is was too soon to discuss policy.
Schumer called for Trump to abandon his proposed cuts of $448 million from the Urban Area Security Initiative used by the NYPD and others for counterterrorism measures.
The senator sought to contrast Trump’s reaction to Tuesday’s carnage with former President George W. Bush’s response after the 9/11 attacks. Bush had invited Schumer and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to the White House and pledged to do everything in his power to protect New York City, Schumer said.
“President Bush, in a moment of national tragedy, understood the meaning of his high office and sought to bring our country together,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “President Trump, where is your leadership?”
Schumer was a House member when he introduced a bill to create the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. It was incorporated into the House immigration package and then the Immigration Act of 1990 signed by then-President George H.W. Bush.
Four years ago, Schumer was part of a bipartisan effort to eliminate the lottery program, but the push failed in the House.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) defended him on that count. “In fact, had the Senate Gang of 8 bill passed the House, it would have ended the Visa Lottery Program AND increased merit based visas,” Flake recalled on Twitter.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) also backed Schumer, telling CNN that he and the senator have had their disagreements “but on the issue of terrorism, he’s been a strong ally.”
Sanders told reporters later Tuesday, “The president does not blame Senator Schumer . . . We believe very strongly that the individual who carried out attack is responsible and no one else.”
Trump had earlier in the day expressed his frustrations with the U.S. justice system at large.
It needs to be much be faster and stronger, he said, “because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughingstock.”
With Tom Brune, Víctor Manuel Ramosand Anthony M. DeStefano