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.

Injected 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.

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.”

And that wasn’t the end of fellow journalists criticizing both the nature and implication of the reporting. Matthew Yglesias 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.”

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig