RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump has seized on the terror attack in New York City to renew calls for hard-line immigration and law enforcement policies. Just after midnight last night, the president tweeted that the suspect in the New York City attacks should get the death penalty. And he's calling on Congress to scrap the immigration program that allowed him into the country in the first place. The president says it's time to end, quote, "political correctness and get tougher."
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We need quick justice. And we need strong justice - much quicker and much stronger than we have right now 'cause what we have right now is a joke. And it's a laughingstock.
MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. So, Mara, as we mentioned, the president tweeted last night that the suspect should get the death penalty. He's getting ahead of himself, isn't he?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: That's something pretty unusual for a president to do, and it could even complicate the prosecution's job in this case. Also, the president showed a big contrast to his reaction after the Las Vegas massacre, when he said for days that it was too soon to talk of any possible policy changes to gun laws. But this case, he jumped right into a debate about immigration.
This is much more in his wheelhouse. He talked about extreme vetting. You heard him say, we have to get tougher on terror suspects. These are all things that he promoted as a candidate. This terror attack has also given him an opportunity to push changes to the legal immigration system, something else he's been talking about a lot - ending family based migration, what critics call chain migration, in favor of a merit-based system.
MARTIN: So let's talk specifically about this immigration program, the program that allowed this suspect into the country in the first place. This is something called the diversity lottery program?
LIASSON: That's right. And the Department of Homeland Security says the suspect in the New York attack did obtain a visa through this program. He came to the U.S. in 2010. The program benefits about 50,000 people a year, and they come from countries with lower levels of immigration to the U.S. In this case, the suspect came from Uzbekistan. The applicants are vetted first, then they go into a lottery. And in attacking this program, the president also attacked Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, who is from New York, who was a sponsor of the original program way back in 1990.
That program was passed as part of an immigration bill by a big bipartisan majority in the Senate. I think the vote was 89-8 and then signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. But years later, Schumer actually proposed ending the diversity lottery visas as part of that Gang of Eight immigration overhaul in 2013 that passed the Senate but failed in the House. But regardless of that history, President Trump is usually quick to start a political fight, especially with a Democrat. He did it again yesterday, and Schumer fired back, accusing the president of dividing the country.
MARTIN: So all this time, the president is trying to push forward with a legislative agenda. You talk about his immigration plans, but taxes are first and foremost on Republicans' mind. And they have had to delay their tax bill by a day at least. They're going to - expected to unveil the bill today. What's it going to look like in its final form?
LIASSON: Well, we're going to get the answers to a lot of questions when they unveil this bill today. We're going to find out whose taxes go up, whose taxes go down. At what income level do the Republicans consider to be middle class? Will there still be a top rate, and what income level will it be for? Also, how to pay for the tax cuts, how much will the deficit be increased? Will 401(k) contributions be cut back? What happens to the state and local tax deduction?
You know, the president had tweeted he didn't want any changes to the 401(k) retirement plans. He's backed off of that. He's also suggested that the Obamacare mandate be overturned in this tax bill. The White House walked that one back, too. But today, when we see the bill that comes out of Congress, we're going to get the answers to a lot of these questions.
MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.