WASHINGTON — Drawing a hard line on immigration in the lead-up to the midterm elections, President Trump said Wednesday that the number of troops sent to the US-Mexican border could reach 15,000.
Trump has rushed a series of immigration declarations, promises, and actions as he tries to mobilize support and retain Republican control of Congress. His own campaign in 2016 concentrated on border fears, and that’s his focus in the final week of the midterm fight.
‘‘As far as the [migrant] caravan is concerned, our military is out,’’ Trump said. ‘‘We have about 5,800. We’ll go up to anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE, and everybody else at the border.’’
Trump rejected the idea he’s fearmongering or politicizing the issue, but his escalating rhetoric calls into question the denial. Trump has railed against illegal immigration, including by migrants from Central America. A so-called caravan of them is slowly moving toward the US border but is still nearly 1,000 miles away.
He has also promised to end a so-called catch-and-release policy by erecting tent cities to hold those who cross illegally. And this week he is asserting he could act by executive order to unilaterally end birthright citizenship for the children of non-US citizens.
Trump’s comments appeared to catch the Pentagon off guard. On Monday, it directed 5,239 active-duty troops to deploy to the border to assist Customs and Border Protection agents in Texas, Arizona, and California. That’s in addition to 2,092 National Guard troops who have been along the border for several months on a separate but related mission.
On Tuesday, Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of US Northern Command, which is supervising the new troop operation, disputed a report the active-duty total could reach 14,000.
‘‘I honestly don’t even know where that came from,’’ he said. ‘‘That is not in line with what we’ve been planning.’’
A deployment of 15,000 would bring the military commitment on the border to roughly the same level as in war-torn Afghanistan.
Trump on Wednesday did not back down from his proposal to upend the very concept of American citizenship. In a morning tweet, he said the right to citizenship for babies born to noncitizens on American soil ‘‘will be ended one way or the other.’’
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that Trump ‘‘obviously’’ could not upend the policy by executive order, drawing a tweeted rebuke from the president. He said Wednesday that Ryan ‘‘should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!’’
Speaking to reporters before leaving the White House for a campaign rally in Florida, Trump compared his plan to act by executive order to President Barack Obama’s much-maligned decision to use executive action to provide protections from prosecution and a path to work status for some people brought to the US illegally as children.
‘‘If he can do DACA, we can do this by executive order,’’ Trump said, referring to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
ADL chief calls for lawmaker Steve King to be censured
On Wednesday the head of the Anti-Defamation League wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan, calling for Representative Steve King to be censured for his allegedly anti-Semitic words and actions.
On Tuesday, Representative Steve Stivers, an Ohio Republican who heads the House campaign arm, rebuked King, an Iowa Republican, for ‘‘completely inappropriate’’ comments on white nationalism.
Greenblatt said King’s behavior ‘‘brought dishonor onto the House’’ and called for Ryan to condemn his actions, discipline him, and strip him of the chairmanship of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice.
King has a history of making inflammatory comments on race and immigration. But his actions have come under heightened scrutiny since Saturday’s mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Last year, King was widely criticized after he tweeted that he agreed with far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders that ‘‘our civilization’’ cannot be restored ‘‘with somebody else’s babies.’’ In June, King retweeted a message sent by Mark Collett, a self-described Nazi sympathizer. Early in October, King tweeted support for Faith Goldy, who was running for Toronto mayor and has promoted the idea there is a ‘‘white genocide’’ underway. And last week, it emerged that King met in August with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties.
Oprah will campaign for would-be Georgia governor
Oprah Winfrey will appear on the campaign trail Thursday, traveling to Georgia for town halls in Marietta and Decatur and door-knocking with Stacey Abrams, Democratic candidate for governor.
The campaign’s website advertises talks ‘‘on the critical value of women in leadership and what is at stake for our communities in the election.’’
Abrams, locked in a tight race with Secretary of State Brian Kemp, would be the first black woman governor in US history if elected.