BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Donald Trump has gone on the attack against Democratic lawmakers who have called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“You get rid of ICE, you’re going to have a country that you’re going to be afraid to walk out of your house,” Trump said in a wide-ranging interview that aired on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
The president encouraged Democratic candidates to embrace demands to dissolve the agency, saying that doing so would doom the party at the polls. “They’re going to get beaten so badly,” he said.
“I think they’ll never win another election,” he added. “So I’m actually quite happy about it.”
The president spent part of his weekend at his New Jersey golf resort tweeting his support for the agency and its involvement in implementing his “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which resulted in more than 2,000 children separated from their families along the southwest border and prompted an outcry from Democrats and many Republicans.
Trump also signaled during the interview that he would not back away from a brewing trade war between the United States and its allies, skewering trading partners and saying that he would wait until after the midterm elections to sign a new North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
“I could sign it tomorrow, but I’m not happy with it,” he told Maria Bartiromo, the show’s anchor. The three countries have been negotiating for more than a year, but have not reached a deal. “I want to make it more fair, OK?”
And while experts, farmers and U.S. companies have warned against the economic consequences of his tariffs and trade skirmishes with the European Union, Canada, Mexico, China and South Korea, the president defended his tariffs and potential calls for more.
“We lose with everybody,” Trump said. “We’re going to make it reciprocal, we’re going to make them fair, and I will tell you that — you don’t know about this, but every country is calling every day, saying, ‘Let’s make a deal, let’s make a deal.’ It’s going to all work out.”
He dismissed the concerns of companies like General Motors and Harley-Davidson, which have both warned against the economic consequences of a trade war caused by tariffs. Instead, he warned, voters were unhappy with Harley-Davidson’s decision to move some production overseas to avoid tariffs, saying that the company would “take a big hit.”
“I guarantee you everybody that ever bought a Harley-Davidson voted for Trump,” he said. “And they’re very unhappy about it.”
A demand for more trade concessions was one part of a campaign message Trump appeared to outline for Republicans in November’s elections, which also included putting another conservative on the Supreme Court and endorsing the administration’s crackdown on immigration.
That plan appears to include seizing as a political weapon the growing call among liberal activists to dissolve ICE, shifting the battle to Democrats’ fault lines on immigration rather than the rifts among Republicans that have been exposed by Trump’s policies.
But even as Trump encouraged the liberal embrace of abolishing ICE, he had promised earlier in the weekend on Twitter that there was “zero chance, it will never happen!”
Democrats have been united against Trump’s family separation policy, which he officially ended through an executive order. On Saturday, demonstrators gathered across the nation — including outside the White House and miles from the Bedminster resort where he spent the weekend — to protest the zero-tolerance policy and the government’s struggle to reunite families.
But only a small number of Democratic lawmakers have called for abolishing ICE. Still, their ranks have been growing, especially since the No. 4 House Democrat was unseated in a primary Tuesday by a liberal challenger who had called for eliminating ICE.
The agency, which has struggled to balance its role in transnational investigations and deportations, is best known for its division responsible for arresting, detaining and deporting immigrants in the country illegally. Under the Trump administration, ICE has faced growing backlash over its tactics, including the arrest of immigrants in the country illegally as they drop their children off at school, and detaining and deporting those with minor offenses.
On Thursday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., became the first senator to directly support the agency’s abolishment.
“I believe you should get rid of it, start over, re-imagine it and build something that actually works,” Gillibrand said on CNN.
In the president’s interview, which was recorded Friday, he sought to use such calls to portray Democrats as extremists, repeating an exaggerated claim that he has “watched ICE liberate towns from the grasp of MS-13.”
He reiterated his point in a tweet Sunday.
“The Liberal Left, also known as the Democrats, want to get rid of ICE, who do a fantastic job, and want Open Borders,” he tweeted. “Crime would be rampant and uncontrollable!”
And in the interview, he warned liberal activists to “just take it easy.”
“Some of the radical ideas, I really think they’re very bad for the country,” he said. “I think they’re actually very dangerous for the country.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.