President Trump said Wednesday that he is considering sending the Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in Tuesday's terrorist attack in New York to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that the United States must be "much tougher" with its treatment of terror suspects.
Trump also called on Congress to immediately dismantle the State Department's Diversity Visa Lottery program, through which authorities have said the suspected attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, came to the United States from Uzbekistan.
“Diversity lottery — sounds nice. It's not nice,” Trump told reporters at the White House during a meeting with his Cabinet. “It's not good. It's not good. It hasn't been good. We've been against it.”
He added, “I am today starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program. I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program.”
Speaking generally, Trump said U.S. immigration laws and the criminal justice system's handling of suspects are “a joke” and “a laughingstock.”
“We have to get much tougher,” he said. “We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct. We're so politically correct that we're afraid to do anything.”
Trump said the United States needs a system of "punishment that's far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They'll go through court for years... We need quick justice, and we need strong justice."
Trump said that terrorists are “constantly seeking to strike our nation,” and that keeping the country safe will require the “unflinching devotion to our law enforcement, homeland security and intelligence professionals.”
Referring to Saipov as an “animal,” Trump said the 29-year-old was responsible for the entry of 23 immigrants, many of them family members. The president said this “chain migration” endangers national security.
“This man that came in, or whatever you want to call him, brought in with him other people, and he was the primary point of contact for — and this is preliminarily — 23 people that came in or potentially came in with him,” Trump said. “That’s not acceptable.”
Asked whether Saipov's family members represent a security threat, Trump said, “They certainly could. He did. They certainly could represent a threat.”
When a reporter asked whether Saipov should be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Trump replied, “I would certainly consider that, yes. Send him to Gitmo. I would certainly consider that.”
Trump — as well as some allies on the far right — seized on the Diversity Visa Lottery program and criticized Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) as a culprit.
In 1990, Schumer, then a House member, introduced the bill that helped create the visa program, which passed Congress with a bipartisan majority and was signed into law by former president George H.W. Bush, a Republican. In 2013, however, Schumer was part of a bipartisan group of senators who sought to end the program as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.
In a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Trump sought to blame Schumer for the attack and accused the Democratic leader of being too soft on immigration laws.
Schumer responded with a statement that read, “I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America. President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget.”
At the U.S. Capitol, Schumer said Trump's handling of Tuesday's attack contrasted sharply with how former president George W. Bush responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
“President Bush united us," Schumer said. "He had us in the White House the next day saying how we would work together. All President Trump does is take advantage – horrible advantage – of a tragedy and try to politicize and divide. It doesn’t work with New Yorkers, it doesn’t work with Americans.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) also took umbrage at what he described as Trump's attempts to politicize the attack.
“The president's tweets I think were not helpful,” Cuomo said at a news briefing Wednesday morning. “I don't think they were factual. I think they tended to point fingers and politicize the situation.”
Cuomo added, “You play into the hands of the terrorists to the extent you disrupt and divide and frighten people in this society.”
Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said that Trump had not contacted them in the wake of the attack. Both men said they were not bothered by the lack of calls from the president, noting that two senior Trump administration officials — Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, and Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary — had called them.
Shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, Trump announced that he had called Cuomo and De Blasio to offer them the full support of the federal government.
Devlin Barrett, Mark Berman and Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.