Former President Donald Trump declined to stake out a clear position on the future of abortion rights in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” but he repeatedly expressed interest in serving as a mediator between “both sides” to reach an agreement.
“I think they’re all going to like me,” he said. “I think both sides are going to like me.”
In his wide-ranging interview with moderator Kristen Welker, parts of which appeared on “Meet the Press,” Trump seemed to seek wiggle room on an issue that has plagued Republicans at the ballot box since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision last year.
The interview, which was taped Thursday, was Welker’s first as moderator of “Meet the Press.” NBC News has also extended an invitation to President Joe Biden to sit down for an interview.
Tune in to “Meet the Press with Kristen Welker” this Sunday for more from Welker’s exclusive interview with former President Donald Trump. Check local listings.
Trump declined to endorse a standard number of weeks after which abortion would be illegal, with some exceptions, and he similarly refused to say whether he feels the issue would best be settled at the state or federal levels.
“We’re going to agree to a number of weeks or months or however you want to define it,” Trump said. “And both sides are going to come together and both sides — both sides, and this is a big statement — both sides will come together. And for the first time in 52 years, you’ll have an issue that we can put behind us.”
In response, Welker asked whether such an agreement would take place at the federal level.
“It could be state, or it could be federal,” Trump said. “I don’t, frankly, care.”
Abortion has proved to be a tricky issue for both Trump and Republicans at large. While Trump has not been as hard-line on the issue as some of his rivals in the presidential primaries, he personally played a large role in creating the current state of affairs: He nominated three of the conservative Supreme Court justices who voted to toss out the Roe ruling, which constitutionally protected abortions for the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Overturning Roe led to a groundswell of activism by abortion-rights advocates, and Democrats capitalized on the energy in critical swing-state races last fall. Meanwhile, a number of ballot initiatives seen as hostile to abortion rights were voted down across the country, some in deep red states.
Trump said members of his own party “speak very inarticulately about this subject.”
“I watch some of them without the exceptions, etc., etc.,” he said, referring to conservatives who don’t support abortion exceptions in cases including abortion and rape. “I said: ‘Other than certain parts of the country, you can’t — you’re not going to win on this issue. But you will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks.
“Because Democrats don’t want to be radical on the issue; most of them, some do,” he continued. “They don’t want to be radical on the issue. They don’t want to kill a baby in the seventh month or the ninth month or after birth. And they’re allowed to do that, and you can’t do that.”
Abortion was not the only issue in the interview about which Trump declined to stake out a clear position, preferring a stance that offered him more flexibility in a general election matchup with Democrats — which polls increasingly show is likely with Trump on the Republican side.
President Joe Biden’s campaign fired back at his remarks shortly after the interview, painting him as “the reason” the issue has taken center stage in the past year.
“In Donald Trump’s own words: he is the reason states across the country are able to ban abortion and are putting women’s lives in danger,” Ammar Moussa, a Biden campaign spokesperson, said in a statement. “He’s repeatedly bragged that ‘nobody has ever done more’ for abortion bans, and it was ‘an honor’ to have appointed the justices who eliminated Roe v. Wade.
“Now, facing an election where he has to defend his deeply unpopular actions, he refuses to give Kristen Welker the honest answer on his support for banning abortion nationwide,” he continued. “The millions of women whose reproductive rights have already been curtailed know where Donald Trump stands on this issue. If elected again, there’s little doubt he’d go further and advance the same extreme agenda.”
In his interview, Trump said “people are starting to think of 15 weeks” as “a number that people are talking about right now” in terms of a federal abortion ban, but he said he would not sign such legislation as president.
“No, no,” he replied.
He went on to call a six-week ban signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of his rivals, “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
At several points, Trump portrayed himself as uniquely capable of finding a solution to put the issue to rest permanently, saying “both sides will be happy” with the solution he would help broker as president and suggesting it would “bring the country together.”
“Let me just tell you what I’d do,” he said. “I’m going to come together with all groups, and we’re going to have something that’s acceptable.”
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Yet Trump, in seeking to portray Democrats as “radical” on the issue, wrongly asserted they support infanticide at multiple junctures of the back-and-forth over abortion rights.
“The radical people on this are really the Democrat that say after five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months, and even after birth, you are allowed to terminate the baby,” he said. “You have a Virginia Governor, previous governor, who said after the baby is born, you will make a determination and if you want, you will kill that baby. The baby is now born.”
Most elected Democrats support broad abortion access regardless of gestational age, but infanticide is illegal nationwide and there is not a push to make it legal.
Trump was referring to controversial comments made in 2019 by then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam as he was discussing abortion legislation. Those comments were about resuscitating dying infants in cases of severe deformities or nonviable pregnancies.
Northam, a physician, was asked about what happens when a woman who is going into labor seeks an abortion during the third trimester. He said such a procedure happens only in cases of nonviable pregnancies or when there are severe deformities. In that scenario, Northam said that “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
As to whether he could manage such a grand bargain between anti-abortion rights groups and pro-abortion rights activists, Trump claimed “the most powerful people that are anti-abortion are okay with” not having a complete and total ban. (Anti-abortion rights activists have sought the most stringent bans that are able to be passed through legislatures at the state and federal level — a standard that varies by legislative body.)
“And you know what?” Trump said. “They weren’t okay with that even a year ago.”