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Trump: Strong military matters more than balanced federal budget

President Trump salutes as he boards Marine One for his first trip as president on Thursday. (AFP/Getty Images)

On the campaign trail, President Trump was confident that he could slash government spending, cut taxes and balance the budget. But in an interview on Thursday, Trump said that a balanced budget is no longer his top priority.

“So a balanced budget is fine, but sometimes you have to fuel the well in order to really get the economy going,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday. “And we have to take care of our military. Our military is more important to me than a balanced budget. Because we’ll get there with a balanced budget. But we have a military that’s really depleted.”

Trump later added: “I want a balanced budget eventually. But I want to have a strong military. To me that’s much more important than anything.”

The president’s comment came during a lengthy interview with Hannity, one of Trump’s longtime friends and informal advisors who kept the tone friendly and conversational. Trump listed some of the things that he has done since taking office. He claimed that as soon as he announced his pick for Homeland Security, retired Gen. John F. Kelly, “all of the sudden the border started tightening up.” And as he has already done several times this week, Trump again complained about media coverage of his presidency, obsessed over the size of the crowd at his inauguration and described the reception he received at a speech at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters over the weekend.

In his first major TV interview as president, Trump is obsessed with his popularity

When it comes to selecting a Supreme Court appointee, Trump said that he has “made my decision pretty much in my mind” and plans to announce his decision next Thursday. He warned that if Democrats try to filibuster his pick, he would encourage Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to use the so-called “nuclear option.” Trump said he is frustrated that some of his Cabinet nominations have taken so long to get through the system.

“They’re obstructionist,” Trump said. “I’ll tell you what, they’re obstructionists.”

Trump and Hannity also discussed an interview Trump did the day before with ABC News’ David Muir. Trump said he didn’t understand why Muir asked him if he’s worried about fueling hatred of the United States by planning to implement restrictions on immigration and refugees. And Hannity wondered aloud if Muir would have a warmer attitude towards waterboarding if he personally had an opportunity to employ it.

“If I had an opportunity to speak with David Muir, I’d say: ‘Okay, two guys go into your house, they kidnap your child, one guy gets away with your child, you tackle the other guy, that guy knows where your child is, would you not waterboard that guy?’” Hannity said.

“So, waterboarding used to be used because they said it really wasn’t torture,” said Trump, who has previously said that waterboarding is torture. “It was the one step slightly below torture. That’s why waterboarding…”

Hannity finished his sentence for him: “That’s why it was legal.”

Trump on waterboarding: ‘Torture works.’

“I mean, torture is real torture, okay?” Trump said. “Waterboarding is — I’m sure it’s not pleasant, but waterboarding was just short of torture.”

Although Trump has been an enthusiastic promoter of the interrogation technique — which is now forbidden by U.S. and international law — he said that he would defer to his secretary of defense, retired Gen. James Mattis, who has said he does not intend to try to resurrect waterboarding.

Hannity returned to his dark hypothetical: “I would ask David Muir: ‘If they kidnapped your kid, and you have one of the kidnappers, what would you do to get the location of your child?’”

“Or would you want him to talk in 48 hours from now by being nice to him, okay?” Trump said.

“It’s over,” Hannity said. “It’s over at that point.”

“And by that time, it’s too late,” Trump said. “So, I’m not into it. I will tell you, though, it works. And I just spoke to people who told me it worked, and that’s what they do.”