President-elect Donald Trump began to add caveats to a host of his campaign promises, saying in an interview aired Sunday that he will work to keep some of the more popular parts of Obamacare intact and focus his deportation efforts on criminals — the same policy that President Obama claims to have.
But Mr. Trump, in an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” stood his ground on Supreme Court picks, saying the justices he nominates will be pro-life and will back Second Amendment rights, though he added that same-sex marriage is “settled” and he doesn’t expect it to be reversed.
He also reiterated his call for term limits in Congress, promised to phase out the influence of lobbyists in Washington, doubted he would be taking many vacations and said he would reject the $400,000-a-year salary the president is due.
Perhaps most significant were the number of issues where the president-elect took a pass, refusing to be goaded into shooting from the hip on whether he would ask FBI Director James B. Comey to step down.
He also declined to detail his plans to stop the Islamic State terrorist organization in the Middle East, nor would he say whether he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He said she and her husband are “good people” and he didn’t want to give a definitive answer now.
Mr. Trump, who spent the days since his victory Tuesday ensconced in New York, save for a brief trip to Washington to meet Mr. Obama for the first time and to confer with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, urged the protesters who have flooded streets in big cities to give him a chance. The billionaire businessman also criticized fringe elements on the right who have reportedly made threats against minorities in the wake of the election.
“I am so saddened to hear that,” he said when the news program asserted there had been “acts of violence popping up in his name.”
“I say stop it,” he said. “If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
Mr. Trump’s victory is still sinking in for politicians across the spectrum, and Democrats are struggling to come to grips with the reality that they will be without control of Congress or the White House in the new year. It will be the first time in a decade that Republicans will have total control.
Most Democratic leaders have said they wish Mr. Trump well and have tried to figure out areas of cooperation, but Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is retiring at the end of this year, lashed out at the president-elect. In a statement Friday, the Nevada Democrat said the Trump victory confirms the ascendance of “hate and bigotry in America.”
“Watching white nationalists celebrate while innocent Americans cry tears of fear does not feel like America,” Mr. Reid said in a statement.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who could face a rough re-election battle in 2018 in a state that went overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump, said Mr. Reid was “an absolute embarrassment.”
Mr. Trump won the Electoral College by expanding Republican control in the Rust Belt but appears to have lost the popular vote in the election. That has helped fuel some of the vehement protests against him, as have some of his more strident promises from the campaign trail, such as his proposed ban on admitting Muslims to the United States.
The president-elect said the protesters’ fears “are totally unfounded” and asked them to give him a chance to prove himself.
On policy, he has begun to shift from the hard-line vows to eviscerate all of the Affordable Care Act.
He called the requirement that insurers offer coverage to those with pre-existing conditions “one of the strongest assets” of the law and said he would try to preserve the protections for parents who can keep their children on their plans longer.
Those promises will make it tougher for Republicans to come up with a viable proposal to repeal the rest of Obamacare without destroying the economics of the health care system — something he acknowledged.
“Adds cost, but it’s very much something we’re going to try and keep,” he said.
When it comes to his plans to boost deportations, Mr. Trump said he would focus on public safety risks but shied away from repeating his campaign-era pledge that 11 million illegal immigrants will “have to go.” He gave a much lower target for deportations — the 2 million to 3 million range — and called rank-and-file illegal immigrants “terrific people.”
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers. We have a lot of these people — probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million. We are getting them out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate,” he said. “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.”
He said he will follow through on building a border wall, though said he is willing to consider some fencing.
Even before he grapples with policy, the president-elect is working on personnel, hoping to fill out his White House staff and his top Cabinet picks.
On Sunday, he said he tapped Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to be chief of staff and said Stephen K. Bannon, former chief at Breitbart News, would serve as his senior counselor and political strategist.
Mr. Trump was joined in his “60 Minutes” interview by his family. His children said they will continue to run the family business in New York and leave the governing to their father. The president-elect said he doesn’t care if the Trump business brand has been hurt.
“This is big-league stuff,” he said. “This is our country. Our country is going bad. We’re going to save our country. I don’t care about hotel occupancy. It’s peanuts compared to what we’re doing.”