Donald Trump used the word "animals" while talking immigration Wednesday, and Democrats pounced.
They'd been waiting.
At a White House event discussing California's sanctuary city laws, Trump listened as a local sheriff lamented that the state's policies prevent local law enforcement from referring MS-13 gang members to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. And then Trump vented.
"You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are," Trump said in response, without explicitly mentioning the gang. "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."
The comments set off another round of condemnation from the left for a president who's become known for using inflammatory language to communicate a hard-line stance on immigration. Democratic leaders quickly framed the comments as the latest affront from the president who opened his campaign in 2015 by referring to Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals and rapists.
But the White House defended Trump's remarks on Thursday, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said people decrying Trump's remarks are defending MS-13. Trump said the same Thursday evening.
"Frankly, I don't think the term POTUS used was strong enough," Huckabee Sanders said.
Regardless, Republicans spent Thursday playing defense, which is where Democrats want them.
Heading into the mid-term elections, Trump's penchant for incendiary, off-the-cuff remarks is among the reasons the country's minority party is so optimistic they can win in November, particularly in areas like South Florida, where high percentages of voters were either born in a different country or born to parents who fled to the U.S. to find a better life. The president's knack for offending other cultures and dragging lawmakers into his vortex could be a great equalizer even for strong incumbents.
As the White House tried to explain Trump's comments Thursday, Democratic challengers in South Florida sought to put their opponents in the same position. Mary Barzee Flores, a former judge and trial lawyer running against longtime Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, called the incumbent a "coward" for staying silent on Trump's latest remarks.
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