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President Trump spoke extensively with reporters outside the White House Wednesday, answering questions on gun policy, Russia, the economy and even birthright citizenship. Yamiche Alcindor, who was there in person, joins William Brangham to discuss key takeaways, including Trump’s alignment with the NRA on gun background checks and his criticism of American Jews who support Democrats.
President Trump held court on the White House South Lawn for more than half-an-hour today, answering questions on a wide-range of topics: gun laws, Russia, the economy, even birthright citizenship.
There was a lot on the president's mind today.
Our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, was there, and she joins me now.
So, the president covered so many different topics today. I'm so glad you were there.
One of the issues I want to talk about is the issue of guns. We're just over two weeks now from El Paso and from Dayton. And the president seems to have vacillated a little bit on his — what he wants to do about background checks.
He talked about that today. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.
Oh, I have an appetite for background checks. We're going to be doing background checks. We're working with Democrats. We're working with Republicans. We already have very strong background checks.
But there are loopholes in the background checks. And that's what I spoke to the NRA about yesterday. They want to get rid of the loopholes, as well as I do. At the same time, I don't want to take away people's Second Amendment rights.
We know the president has also been talking to the head of the National Rifle Association.
Do you have a better sense of what the president willing to do about guns?
The president is clearly in lockstep with the NRA on this issue when it comes to background checks and gun legislation overall.
He's been talking frequently to Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA. I put the question to the president, are you also talking to mass shooting victims? He wouldn't answer specifically that. All he would say is that I visited them in the hospital.
But then he was really misleading when it came to the idea of what the NRA wants to do. He said Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, wants to somehow close loopholes in the background check system.
And that's completely not what the NRA says on its own Web site. It says that they oppose expanding any sort of background checks. They also say that they take issue with the idea that there any sort of gun loopholes in the system right now.
Now, critics would say that's completely not true. In fact, they would say online sales and at gun shows, personal person-to-person private gun sales, you don't need background checks for that. So that's why a lot of people want universal background checks.
But the president so far is not supporting that issue. So it's going to — we're going to have to see where the president goes with this. But it's pretty clear that he's leaning toward whatever that NRA wants to support.
On another issue, for the second day in a row, the president seemed to question the loyalty of Jewish Americans who support Democrats.
Let's listen to what he said about that today.
They don't want to fund Israel. They want to take away foreign aid to Israel. They want to do a lot of bad things, Israel. In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you're being very disloyal to Israel.
And only weak people would say anything other than that.
How did the president respond to the criticism that, when you start talking about loyalty in relation to Jewish people, that that relies on some pretty anti-Semitic ideas?
The president completely doubled down on his attacks on American Jews, and did not back away from the idea that, if they vote for Democrats, that they are disloyal, and that they are not using good knowledge in doing so.
Now, it's important to note just how many American Jews support Democrats. About 75 percent of American Jews supported Democrats in the midterms. And, overwhelmingly, American Jews support Democrats overall.
It's important to also note that the president, when he — when he was asked about whether or not some of his words might be anti-Semitic, he said that he hadn't heard that criticism. But it's important to also look at the groups that are calling the president out.
The Anti-Defamation League criticized him for using other people who say that that's anti-Semitic to say that Jews are disloyal. Also, J Street, a liberal advocacy group that's involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they called the president's words dangerous and shameful.
So while the president is not backing down, there are Jewish leaders and civil rights groups who are saying the president should not be using this language.
I know you have been watching this president for a long time. And, today, it seemed like he really did have a lot of anger and sort of fury and fire that he was shooting at the Democrats.
Do you have a sense of what's driving that?
The president is really, I think, making the case for his 2020 election. He is trying to posit himself as this person who is the only person who can fix the country's ill and that Democrats have really led this country astray.
You see that when he talked about Denmark and saying that he canceled his trip there. He said, maybe Denmark could have called the country — or called out the country under President Obama, but with me as president, that's not going to happen.
The same thing on immigration. He said, oh, President Obama — he said falsely that President Obama separated immigrant children. That's, of course, not true.
But, even more, he said Democrats were essentially letting open borders and letting all sorts of immigrants in. That's also not true. But, really, it comes down to the president's strategy when it comes to reelection. He has to say, Democrats are trying to destroy your way of life, in order to really what he thinks is bring out the turnout in his voters.
Yamiche, we will talk about those that Denmark and those immigration issues later in the show. Thank you.
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