Denouncing the U.S. right to birthright citizenship—guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—as "ridiculous," President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that he has the power to subvert that guarantee by presidential fiat – his latest effort to mainstream a noxious lie and xenophobic trope while also furthering what critics call his authoritarian approach to governance by once more exploiting certain members of the White House press corps willing to carry his water for him.
"[Axios'] Jonathan Swan is an operative of the Trump White House and all his 'scoops' are really just messaging that this fascist administration wants disseminated to the public." —Sam Sacks, DC SentinelInjected into a White House interview by Axios' Jonathan Swan, a reporter who prides himself on receiving inside information from anonymous top-level Trump officials, the president appeared surprised (or feigned surprise) that anybody knew his internal desire and plan to end birthright citizenship but said "it will happen" and that "now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."
It's not clear who Trump is referring to when he says "they," but it's reasonable to assume—given that Trump says he didn't think anybody else knew about it—that it's the very same staff person or people who told Swan to ask him the question in the first place.
But pushing back against the idea that Swan had somehow scooped a new White House proposal, other journalists warned that Swan was playing—wittingly or not—right into Trump's hands by letting the president and his White House staff put out into the world another piece of red meat for Trump's racist, xenophobic base.
Guys. Trump can’t terminate amendments via executive order. To respond as if he’s ending birthright citizenship because he told an outlet he is ending birthright citizenship is to allow him to be our assignment editor. It’s an obvious stunt
— Sam Stein (@samstein) October 30, 2018
News organizations shouldn’t tweet quotes that are lies without labeling them lies. Many other countries, including Canada and Mexico, have birthright citizenship. https://t.co/0XGcQxyNix
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— James Surowiecki (@JamesSurowiecki) October 30, 2018
— Dan Froomkin's White House Watch (@froomkin) October 30, 2018
Sam Sacks, reporter and co-founder of the DC Sentinel, minced no words. "Jonathan Swan is an operative of the Trump White House and all his 'scoops' are really just messaging that this fascist administration wants disseminated to the public," Sacks said in a tweeted response to the report. "Much like Fox News, except Axios caters to beltway elites that have long enabled this extremism."
Axios enabling fascism. Notice how Jonathan Swan does a lot of the heavy lifting for Trump’s racist and unconstitutional proposal by prefacing question with: “Some legal scholars believe you can get rid of birthright citizenship without changing the constitution.”
— DC Sentinel Manager to be talked to (@SamSacks) October 30, 2018
And that wasn't the end of fellow journalists criticizing both the nature and implication of the reporting. Matthew Yglesia of Vox was among those pointing out how Trump's false legal claims went unchallenged by both Swan and VandeHei. The legal practice of birthright citizenship, also known by the Latin Jus Soli (or right of the soil), explained Yglesias, "is standard procedure in most Western Hemisphere countries and the rule Trump says nobody follows can be found in such exotic locales as Canada and Mexico." Also a very clear mistruth, he added, "The President cannot change the Constitution by executive order."