COLUMBIA, Mo. — President Donald Trump continued his campaign-season barrage on illegal immigration to a receptive audience at a political rally here Thursday night, five days before the pivotal midterm elections.
"We’re going to keep these people out of our country," Trump said. "Vote Republican."
Trump was in town to campaign for fellow Republican Josh Hawley, the state attorney general, whose race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is so tight that neither has led by more than four points in a publicly released poll this year.
While Trump trashed McCaskill — calling her a "far left Democrat" — and praised Hawley as "a star," his focus remained on the caravans of migrants making their way from Central America toward the U.S.
"These are tough people," Trump said. "These are not angels. These are not little angels. And we are not letting them into our country."
He reminded his supporters that he is sending up to 15,000 troops to the U.S. border, a policy that he had discussed at the White House earlier in the day, and that he intends to sign an executive order designed to deny birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S.
On Thursday night, Trump called the guarantee of citizenship to babies born inside U.S. borders a “crazy, lunatic policy.”
Many legal scholars believe the 14th Amendment, which stipulates that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States," guarantees citizen status to those born inside American borders. Those who agree with Trump argue those children are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the federal government.
Hawley, who walked down the steps of Air Force One with Trump, was invited to the podium to make his case to the voters. He rapped McCaskill and lauded Trump, claiming that his victory of nearly 20 percentage points was the biggest ever. In just the last 50 years, presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson won Missouri by greater margins than Trump.
Bryan Mosher, 41, a computer technician and Marine Corps veteran, said he agrees with Trump's policies on immigration, from birthright citizenship to reinforcing the border with U.S. troops. And, he said, he's fine with Trump's formulation that American forces should treat any migrants who throw rocks as if they are firing guns.
"I think that you can't put somebody in harm's way and then handcuff them, tell them they can't defend themselves," Mosher said, though he clarified he believes Trump is sending troops as a deterrent rather than in anticipation that they will fire weapons.
Kathleen Pfaff, 66, of Chillicothe, said she believes troops should be allowed to fire their weapons without "shooting to kill." Along with the economy and abortion, she said, securing the border is one of the most important issues to her.
"You can't just let everybody in without checking them out," she said. "How many people did it take with the Twin Towers? It doesn't take too many criminals or people like that."
The 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
For the most part, Trump stuck to his stump script, mixing boasts about his record with attacks on Democrats — many of which conflated truth and fiction.
Trump name-checked several familiar Democratic foils in his remarks, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, but, in the wake of the recent pipe bombs mailings and a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday, he was more restrained. Trump referred to the perpetrators of both acts to say that the events paused a Republican run.
“Two maniacs stopped the momentum. But we don’t care about momentum when it comes to safety. But now the momentum has picked back up,” he said.
He did trot out a new line for the crowd: "A Republican Congress means more jobs and less crime," he said. "A Democrat Congress means more crime and less jobs."