Rep. Pete King said Thursday that he agrees with the president that stronger vetting is needed for people entering the United States, but allowing Uzbek terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov to enter the United States through the federal diversity visa lottery program has "nothing to do" with not vetting him.
"The lottery visas have nothing to do with vetting," the New York Republican told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. "Anyone coming in under a lottery visa is vetted the same as anyone else . . . I think we've been not as strict as we should be with the vetting."
King also defended Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who came under fire on Wednesday by President Donald Trump, who blamed him for the lottery program.
"On the issue of terrorism, Chuck Schumer has been very strong," King said. "I'll say that up front."
The lottery program was put into effect in 1990, said King. Schumer did introduce that House bill. However, Politico reports, it came from a push from Sen. Ted Kennedy and others while reforming immigration policy that was originally passed back in 1965.
The lottery provision was reformed in order to help Irish and Italian immigrants, who felt they were excluded by the earlier bill.
"Most of Western Europe was closed down because they wanted to open up to south Asia," said King on Thursday. "It was a great benefit to our country, then we realized people from Western Europe, among others, in effect were not allowed to come to the country."
To this day, the visa lottery benefits Europe, said King, with approximately 20,000 of such visas given out under the program to people from there in the past year.
"I agree with the president to the extent I think we need more vetting," said King. "I think we've been not as strict as we should be with the vetting. On the other hand, the lottery visa has nothing to do with it."
King said he also believes it will be better to keep Saipov in the federal court system, rather than sending him to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, even though he is not opposed to the facility in general.
"There could be certain instances where it serves a purpose," he said. "In this case I think the federal district court is the right way to go. The FBI is making considerable progress in their investigation."
However, he said President Donald Trump, who called in a tweet for the death penalty against Saipov "had to be careful in what he says."
"This is one of the situations where we have a president who is a non-politician and a non-lawyer and speaking from the gut," said King. "I think most Americans right now would say, yes, give him the electric chair, give him the gas chamber and give him the needle."
But as a lawyer, King said he believes Trump needs to be more careful.
"I remember years ago, dating myself now, during the [Charles] Manson case when President [Richard] Nixon made a statement about him being a murderer and the trial wasn't over yet," said King. "Presidents have to be careful in what they say about someone about to be charged, is being charged or is about to go to trial."
King also said he's continued to fight budget cuts to counterterrorism programs through the years, and will continue that with the Trump administration.
"Virtually, all of those cuts have been restored in the budget that passed the Houses," said King. "To me, we can never spend enough money on Homeland Security."
King on Thursday also discussed the GOP tax reform plan being unveiled on Thursday, saying that he does have a "very real" problem with the provision eliminating deductions for state and local taxes.
"If you itemize at all, this is a devastating impact" said King. "People in my district, it's not unusual to have a property tax and combined income tax bill of over $25,000, $25,000 to $30,000 which is a deduction. That does not make you rich."
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