President Trump on Tuesday accused Democrats of possibly funding the caravan of migrants from Central America that is currently making its way through Mexico.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, the president offered no proof that the Democrats were funding the migrant caravan, but was reacting to an announcement by Vice President Mike Pence that the caravan was being backed by “leftist organizations” and “Venezuela.”
“Maybe they made a bad mistake,” Trump said of the Democrats.
Trump’s comments came on the heels of a series of tweets that he would cut aid to three Central American countries he accused of failing to stop thousands of migrants heading for the U.S. border even as there was no indication of any other action within the administration.
Trump tweeted on Monday, "Sadly, it looks like Mexico's Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States." He added without evidence that "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in."
Trump continued, "Must change laws!"
Pence said on Tuesday that “it is inconceivable” that people from the Middle East are not in the caravan.
Associated Press journalists traveling with the caravan for more than a week have spoken with Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans but said they have not met any of the "Middle Easterners" that Trump claimed had "mixed in" with the Central American migrants. It was clear, though, that more migrants were continuing to join the caravan.
Trump's tweets marked the latest escalation of his efforts to thrust immigration politics into the national conversation in the closing weeks of the congressional elections. He and his senior aides have long believed the issue — which was a centerpiece of his winning presidential campaign — is key to revving up his base and motivating GOP voters to turn out in November.
"Blame the Democrats," he wrote. "Remember the midterms."
The three countries received about $500 million from the U.S. in fiscal year 2017. That money funds programs that promote economic development and education, as well as supporting democracy and human rights, among other issues. It was not immediately clear how much money Trump now hopes to cut, though the administration already had been pushing to reduce the government's global aid and foreign operations budget by about 30 percent for fiscal 2019 that began Oct 1.
Paul O'Brien, the vice president for policy and advocacy at Oxfam America, said that any attempts to decrease aid to the Central American countries would be "devastating" since the U.S. is a key investor in the region, funding programs on issues ranging from workforce development to reducing violence and improving human rights. In addition, other investors look to the U.S. as a guide.
"If you take that money away or you make it unpredictable, you're actually going to foster the very conditions that are driving people toward migration," said O'Brien, who accused Trump of "essentially seeking to use migrants as a political chip."
Trump on Tuesday acknowledged that there was “heartache on both sides,” but said that work to improve the human rights conditions in Central America “hasn’t worked for a long time.” The president added that the U.S. needed to implement a merit-based immigration system.
“We cannot allow our country to be violated like this,” he said. “We have to focus on our country for a change.”
Trump addressed several other topics in the Oval Office. He criticized Saudi Arabia's response after the apparent death of writer and activist Jamal Khashoggi, calling it one of the "worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."
He also said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, would unveil a middle-income tax cut plan in the coming days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.