On Tuesday, Axios released the first clip of its upcoming four-part HBO series, which featured President Donald Trump floating the possibility of ending birthright citizenship for babies of non-US citizens and undocumented immigrants, a constitutional right enshrined in the 14th Amendment.
“Some legal scholars believe you can get rid of birthright citizenship without changing the Constitution,” reporter Jonathan Swan asserts to Trump in the interview. Trump then interrupts to finish Swan’s thoughts, “with an executive order.”
“Exactly!” he replies, appearing visibly thrilled with the prospect of having goaded Trump into an explosive, anti-immigrant quote. “Tell me more!” Swan encourages the president.
As the clip continues, Trump goes on to incorrectly complain that the United States was the only country in the world to offer birthright citizenship. In reality, at least 30 countries worldwide offer it. According to Trump, though, that right has unfairly provided benefits to people he apparently believes are undeserving of them. “It’s ridiculous, it’s ridiculous,” he says. “And it has to end.”
The interview continues, but Swan doesn’t counter the president’s blatant falsehood. It was then breathlessly repeated in headlines without qualification or mention that the proposal is likely unconstitutional.
This is such an irresponsible tweet. No context. And really—we get it, you’re promo-ing your new tv show, and that’s why your reporter laughs thru the interview. Class A example if shitty journalism. https://t.co/TW3gawABcA
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) October 30, 2018
“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … It’s ridiculous,” Trump says https://t.co/JpFmfPj3gx pic.twitter.com/LUWz20LB9q
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) October 30, 2018
As many noted the dangers of failing to fact-check the president, Axios eventually added a note to the clip’s corresponding post. The Associated Press also deleted its tweet reiterating Trump’s remarks without context.
While Trump probably lacks the legal authority to carry out his supposed plans for an executive order, the mere raising of its possibility has likely already accomplished what the Trump administration has often sought to do with such issues, and that is to threaten his targets with fear-mongering rhetoric while at the same time fomenting his base. Trump has escalated those tactics in the final push ahead of the midterms, and his latest threat of an executive order fits right into the pattern.