NEW YORK: President-elect Donald Trump vowed Sunday to move aggressively on a conservative agenda in filling Supreme Court vacancies, cracking down on immigration and cutting taxes, but also sought to reassure worried Americans they have nothing to fear from his presidency.
Setting aside the strident tone of his campaign, the 70-year-old Trump assumed a gentler manner in his first television interview since his shock election, saying he was “saddened” by reports of harassment of Muslims and Hispanics, and telling the perpetrators: “Stop It.”
The interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” which was taped Friday and aired in full Sunday, offered Trump an opportunity to reintroduce himself after an ugly, name-calling campaign and surprise victory that sparked protests in cities across the United States.
“I just don’t think they know me,” the billionaire real estate mogul said at one point, of the thousands of protesters who have massed in streets below his Trump Tower headquarters with signs that read “Not our president.”
Told that many Americans are scared of his presidency, Trump said: “Don’t be afraid. We are going to bring our country back.”
On the issues, however, Trump made it clear he intends to aggressively push a right-wing agenda, pledging to name justices to the Supreme Court who are anti-abortion and pro-gun rights.
“The judges will be pro-life,” Trump told CBS. “In terms of the whole gun situation,” he added, “they’re going to be very pro-Second Amendment.”
He will have an immediate opportunity to fill a vacancy on the court left by the death of arch conservative justice Antonin Scalia. President Barack Obama’s attempt to fill the seat was blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.
On immigration, Trump reaffirmed his signature campaign pledge to build a wall on the border with Mexico, although he conceded parts of it may be just a fence.
And he said as many as three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records would be deported or incarcerated.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers,” he said.
“We have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” he said.
He left the door open, however, on the fate of the millions of other hard-working immigrants in the country illegally.
“After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about who are terrific people,” he said.
Immigration, he said, was one of three top legislative priorities he has discussed with House Speaker Paul Ryan, the others being action to undo Obama’s signature health care reform and a bill to cut taxes and simplify the tax code.
Trump had previously indicated he would keep some aspects of Obamacare, including a ban on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
There were other conciliatory notes as well.
He signalled that he would not seek to overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States.
“It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done,” Trump said when asked if he supports marriage equality. “And I’m — I’m fine with that,” he added.
He also confirmed he would forego the $400,000 salary that comes with the office of US president.
“I’m not going to take the salary. I’m not taking it,” he said. “I think I have to by law take $1, so I’ll take $1 a year,” he added.
Earlier Sunday, Trump made his first high level appointments, naming anti-establishment firebrand Steve Bannon his top strategist and top Republican Reince Priebus his White House chief of staff.
The choices suggested Trump, a political novice, intends for his new administration to preserve the populist edge that won him the White House, tempered by political pragmatism.
Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, is a seasoned political operative with close ties to Ryan, the House speaker.
But Bannon, the campaign chairman in the final months of the Trump campaign, is CEO of the right-wing, conspiracy-mongering Breitbart News website known for withering attacks on the Republican elite.
It has also likened abortions to a “Holocaust,” railed against Muslim immigrants, and once advised female victims of online harassment to “just log off” and stop “screwing up the internet for men,” illustrating that point with a picture of a crying child.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Trump made no promises to tone down his own rhetoric as president.
“I don’t want to be just a little nice monotone character,” he said.
Newt Gingrich, a member of Trump’s inner circle, said he would advise the president-elect to “swing for the fences.”
“This is a city which if you don’t shove it as hard as you can while you have momentum, it will just surround you. I mean, the swamp doesn’t want to be drained. And the swamp will just suck you in if you let it,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Despondent Democrats are vowing resistance — despite now being locked out of power not only in the House and Senate, but now in the White House as well.
“Our job now is to hold him accountable,” said Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination race. AFP