Trump Criticized for "Politicizing" NYC Terror Attack by NY Gov. Cuomo

Donald Trump - Meeting with Governor Ricardo Rossello - Getty - H 2017
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It's unclear if the attacker — an immigrant from Uzbekistan who came to the U.S. legally in 2010 — came in through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, despite the president's tweets.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged tougher immigration measures based on merit, following the deadly truck attack in New York City. "We will stop this craziness," he said.

Trump said on Twitter that the driver in Tuesday's attack "came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty" — a reference to the Senate's Democratic leader.

Officials said the attacker is an immigrant from Uzbekistan who came to the United States legally in 2010. They haven't said whether he was admitted through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which covers immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. Officials have said he self-radicalized in the United States, however.

Trump also tweeted: "We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter)." Trump has backed legislation that would curb legal immigration and shift the nation toward a system that would place an emphasis on merit and skills over family ties.

The tweets followed Trump's Tuesday night statement that he ordered the Department of Homeland Security "to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program." Trump's policy entails more stringent investigative measures intended to identify would-be immigrants who may sympathize with extremists or pose a national security risk to the United States.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the president's tweets. Trump cited Fox and Friends on Twitter as he attacked Schumer and the program. Trump added: "We will stop this craziness."

Later denouncing the suspect as an "animal," Trump again urged tougher immigration measures based on skills and other merit rather than a lottery during a Cabinet meeting. Stating the driver entered the country through the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program," he called on Congress to "immediately" begin working to eliminate the program, which applies to countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. Trump added, "We have to get much tougher, much smarter, and less politically correct."

During a Wednesday press conference where New York and federal officials who shared updates on the attack, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took issue with Trump "politicizing" the tragedy in his response.

When asked by a reporter if he was bothered that Trump didn't personally make a phone call, Cuomo replied, "I'm not bothered that the president didn't call, I am bothered by anyone trying to politicize the situation." He added, "To politicize this event I think is wholly counterproductive."

He later added, "The president's tweets were not helpful. ... His tweet wasn't even accurate as far as I'm concerned. That was a bipartisan law that had no relevance to the facts of this situation. You play into the hands of the terrorist to the extent [when] you disrupt and divide and frighten people in the society."

He then echoed his statements from the day prior, calling on solidarity.

"The tone now should be the exact opposite by all officials on all levels," he said in reference to Trump. "This is about unification, solidarity, normalization. This is about protection. The last thing it's about is politics. Period."

The diversity visa program referenced by Trump provides up to 50,000 visas annually by lottery. Applicants must have a high school diploma or meet work experience requirements. It was created as part of a bipartisan immigration bill introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Schumer, a New York Democrat who was a member of the House of Representatives at the time, proposed a program for "diversity immigrants" in a bill he offered earlier that year.

Schumer said in a statement Wednesday that he has "always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America," adding that Trump is "politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy." He said Trump had proposed cutting anti-terrorism funding in his most recent budget.

"I'm calling on the president to immediately rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding," Schumer said. He also tweeted, "I guess it's not too soon to politicize a tragedy."

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on Twitter that Trump was unfairly blaming Schumer for the diversity visa program. Flake, one of Trump's chief Republican foes in Congress, said Schumer was among a group of eight Republican and Democratic senators who proposed eliminating the program three years ago as part of a broader bipartisan bill to overhaul U.S. immigration laws.

Flake, who served on that "Gang of Eight" with Schumer, said: "I know. I was there."

The immigration bill ultimately failed in the GOP-led House after passing the Senate in June 2013, 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats.

Flake recently announced he's not running for re-election but says he won't be silent about Trump's politics and behavior.

Nov. 1, 8:44 a.m. Updated with Cuomo quotes from press conference.