President Donald Trump has a new favorite talking point: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is soft on MS-13, an international drug gang involved in drug-trafficking, murder, rape and torture.
At a Tuesday night gala for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, Trump said Pelosi "came out in favor of MS-13" because she had taken umbrage at his description of some undocumented immigrants to the United States as "animals."
On Wednesday, at a roundtable discussion on MS-13 on Long Island, Trump returned to the same line of attack.
"Democrats, Nancy Pelosi for example, are trying to defend MS-13 gang members," he said. "I called them 'animals' the other day, and I was met with rebuke. ... They said 'they're people.' They're not people. These are animals."
Pelosi, who does not support the gang, shot back on Twitter after his Tuesday night remarks.
"Tough talk from a man separating innocent children from their parents," Pelosi wrote in reference to the Trump administration's policy of holding undocumented adults who cross the U.S.-Mexico border in adult facilities while sending children to relatives, juvenile holding facilities or foster care.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
Trump's broadsides dovetail with congressional Republicans' mid-term election efforts, which have focused on convincing voters that they should vote to keep the GOP in power because Pelosi is too extreme to lead the House again.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., also name-checked Pelosi during Wednesday's event, telling Trump that "congressional Democrats just refuse to work with you."
Trump has long focused on MS-13 in making his arguments for stricter border and interior immigration enforcement policies, from building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to more aggressively pursuing the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
He was joined on Long Island Wednesday by officials from the Homeland Security and Justice departments, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump has pointedly and repeatedly refused to express confidence in when asked by reporters over the last two days. Trump has been frustrated by what he sees as an effort within Justice, the FBI and other agencies to discredit his election while failing to probe agents and officials who have investigated his 2016 campaign.
On Sunday, he successfully pressured Rosenstein to ask the Justice Department's inspector general to broaden an internal investigation to include a probe of the actions of those investigating him. He also got Rosenstein to agree to meet with congressional Republicans who have been seeking information about whether the FBI improperly infiltrated his campaign.
On Wednesday, Trump shared an awkward handshake with Rosenstein before the roundtable on MS-13 but praised the No. 2 official at justice after Rosenstein finished speaking.
"I think that’s great Rod,” Trump said. “Thank you, Rod, very much, very nice."
Trump said one idea he has for cracking down on the gang is to subtract foreign aid dollars from the countries of origin of gang members who were not born in the U.S.
"Every time somebody comes in from a certain country we're going to deduct a rather large amount of money," he said.
It was his comments about the gang at a White House event last week that prompted Pelosi's first response.
Following a statement about the gang from another participant, Trump used the word "animals" to describe some undocumented immigrants.
"We have people coming into the country, trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are," Trump said during the White House meeting with officials from California to discuss that state's sanctuary policies. "These aren't people, these are animals."
While Trump later said that he was clearly referring to MS-13, Democrats jumped on the remarks as evidence of a broader assault on undocumented immigrants — and a dehumanizing use of language.
“When the president of the United States says about undocumented immigrants, 'These aren't people, these are animals,' you have to wonder, does he not believe in the spark of divinity, the dignity and worth of every person?" Pelosi said last week.