President Donald Trump on Friday chided media outlets who reported earlier in the week that he had referred to undocumented immigrants as “animals,” a remark that came in response to questions about members of the brutal MS-13 gang with roots in El Salvador.
“Fake News Media had me calling Immigrants, or Illegal Immigrants, ‘Animals.’ Wrong! They were begrudgingly forced to withdraw their stories,” the president wrote on Twitter. “I referred to MS 13 Gang Members as “Animals,” a big difference — and so true. Fake News got it purposely wrong, as usual!”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed the president Friday, saying on “Fox & Friends” that she was “a bit horrified” at media coverage of the president’s remarks: “If anyone wants to quibble about whether we should call those people animals, perhaps the quibble should be whether we call them something worse.”
Asked about criticism from Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Nielsen added, “I think those lawmakers owe the president an apology.”
Trump’s original comment came Wednesday at a White House meeting with California local officials opposed to the state’s “sanctuary” immigration policy. At one point in the meeting, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims complained about state law that prohibited her from telling federal immigration authorities about undocumented immigrants, including MS-13 gang members, in her county jail.
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country,” Trump responded. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
Fueled in no small part by the president’s history of incendiary remarks regarding immigrants and immigration, Trump’s comments quickly spread, with his “animals” remark widely reported as referring to many undocumented immigrants. By Thursday, Trump allies and White House spokespeople had pushed back against the reporting on the president’s remarks and Trump himself offered his own explanation at an afternoon meeting.
“You know I’m referring to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in. I was talking about the MS-13,” Trump said Thursday at the White House. “So, I’m actually surprised that you’re asking this question because most people got it right.”
Nielsen also said Friday that a recent report saying she had drafted a resignation letter after the president berated her was not true. She previously said she didn’t threaten to resign.