WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is taking no responsibility for his role in fomenting a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week in which multiple people died, despite his comments encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol and praise for them while they were still carrying out the assault.
Ahead of his visit to Texas Tuesday to highlight his administration's efforts to curb illegal immigration, Trump said his remarks to supporters at the rally in Washington, D.C. were "totally appropriate." He made the comments during his first appearance in public since the Capitol siege, which came as lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
In Alamo, Texas, a city in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexican border — the site of the 450th mile of the border wall his administration is building, Trump brushed off Democratic calls on his Cabinet to declare him unfit from office and remove him from power using the 25th Amendment.
"The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me, but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration," Trump said. "As the expression goes, be careful of what you wish for."
The rampage through the halls of Congress sent lawmakers of both parties and Trump's own vice president into hiding, as crowds called for Mike Pence's lynching for his role overseeing the vote count. The scene also undermined the hallmark of the republic — the peaceful transition of power. At least five people died, including one Capitol Police officer.
Minutes before a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol last week, Trump encouraged them to march on the seat of the nation’s government where lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes affirming president-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Trump, for months, had also spread false claims that the November election was fraudulent, despite his own administration’s findings to the contrary.
A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three others died in what authorities said were medical emergencies. As rioters were still in the Capitol, Trump released a video seemingly excusing the events, saying of the rioters: "We love you. You’re very special."
Trump’s comments on Tuesday come in the final days of his presidency as he stares down the prospect of a second impeachment for the Capitol riot that the House will begin debating Wednesday. Trump has spent days out of sight following the siege.
President Donald Trump participates in a ceremony commemorating the 200th mile of border wall at the international border with Mexico in San Luis, Arizona, June 23, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Speaking Tuesday, Trump said the "real problem" was not his rhetoric, but the rhetoric that Democrats used to describe Black Lives Matter protests and violence in Seattle and Portland this summer.
"Everybody to the ‘t’ thought it was totally appropriate," Trump said of his own comments.
Trump angrily lashed out at lawmakers' push for his second impeachment this week, claiming, "It’s causing tremendous anger and division and pain far greater than most people will ever understand, which is very dangerous for the USA, especially at this very tender time."
Alamo is named after the San Antonio mission where a small group of Texan independence-fighters fended off Mexican forces during a 13-day siege. Most of them died but the mission became a symbol of resistance for Texans, who eventually defeated the Mexican army.
Trump's visit there — no doubt a symbol of the president's defiance — comes as he spends the final days of his presidency isolated, aggrieved and staring down the prospect of a second impeachment.
Aides have been urging the president to use the days he has left in office to highlight what they see as the chief accomplishments of his presidency: a massive tax cut, his efforts to roll back federal regulations and the transformation of federal courts with the appointment of conservative judges.
In Texas, he delivered remarks highlighting his administration's efforts to curb illegal immigration and the progress made on his signature 2016 campaign promise: building a "big, beautiful wall" across the length of the southern border — an imposing structure made of concrete and reinforced steel. But over time, Trump demanded modifications that have been largely rejected: He wanted it painted black to burn the hands of those who touched it; he wanted it adorned with deadly spikes; he even wanted to surround it with an alligator-filled moat. While he promised that it would be funded by Mexico, U.S. taxpayers ended up footing the bill.
In the end, his administration has overseen the construction of roughly 450 miles of border wall construction — likely reaching 475 miles by Inauguration Day. The vast majority of that wall replaces smaller barriers that had already existed, though the new wall is considerably more difficult to bypass.
Over the last four years, Trump and his administration have taken extreme — and often unlawful — action to try to curb both illegal and legal immigration. Their efforts were aided in his final year by the coronavirus pandemic, which ground international travel to a halt. But the number of people stopped trying to cross the southern border illegally has been creeping back up in recent months. Figures from December show nearly 74,000 encounters at the southwest border, up 3% from November and up 81% from a year earlier.
A few dozen Trump supporters rallied hours before his visit to the Rio Grande Valley near the Harlingen, Texas, airport, where he was scheduled to land. They planned to stage a caravan of vehicles flying flags that support the president and far-right causes like the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has warned the next administration that easing Trump administration policies, including a halt to wall construction, would lead to a surge of people seeking to cross the border, creating "an unmitigated crisis in the first few weeks."
President-elect Joe Biden has said he’d halt construction of the border wall and take executive action where possible to reverse some of Trump’s restrictions on legal immigration and asylum seekers. But Biden and his aides have acknowledged the possibility of a new crisis at the border if they act too quickly, and Biden has said it could take six months for his administration to secure funding and put in place the necessary infrastructure to loosen Trump-era restrictions.
Missing from the trip was Chad Wolf, Trump’s acting Department of Homeland Security secretary. He abruptly resigned Monday, days after he pledged to serve out Trump's full term.
After the Capitol violence, groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center urged Trump to call off his visit.
"The violence Trump incited last week, and the violence his anti-immigrant policies cause stem from the alarming mainstreaming of white nationalist ideology that our country must reckon with and fight to uproot," said Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director of the center’s Immigrant Justice Project. "The president’s planned trip to the border will only further the harm and beget more violence."