WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump appeared to soften some of his hardest-line campaign positions on immigration on Sunday, but he also restated his pledge to roll back abortion rights and used Twitter to lash out at his critics, leaving open the possibility that he would continue using social media in the Oval Office and radically change the way presidents speak to Americans.
In his first prime-time television interview since his upset victory Tuesday, Trump repeated his promise to name a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion rights and would help overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized them, returning the issue to the states.
Asked where that would leave women seeking abortions, Trump said on the CBS program “60 Minutes,” “Well, they’ll perhaps have to go — they’ll have to go to another state.”
On immigration, he said the wall that he has been promising to build on the nation’s southern border might end up being a fence in places. But he said his priority was to deport 2 million to 3 million immigrants he characterized as dangerous or as having criminal records, a change from his original position that he would deport all of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country. President Barack Obama has deported more than 2 million unauthorized immigrants during his time in office.
Trump said that unauthorized immigrants who are not criminals are “terrific people,” and that he would decide how to handle them after the border is secure. The House speaker, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, echoed the president-elect, saying on Sunday that there would be no deportation force, something Trump had promised to create early in his campaign.
“That’s not what we’re focused on,” Ryan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Trump also said he considered the Supreme Court decision last year that validated same-sex marriages as settled, and that he was “fine with that.” He endorsed popular aspects of President Barack Obama’s health insurance law, including a provision that requires coverage of people with pre-existing medical conditions and one that allows young people to remain on their parents’ plans until the age of 26.
But even as he appeared to inch toward the political center, Trump used a series of postings on Twitter to argue that The New York Times’ coverage of him has been “BAD” and “very poor and highly inaccurate.” He falsely stated that The Times had issued an apology to readers, an apparent reference to a letter to readers from The Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and its executive editor, Dean Baquet. The letter noted the unpredictable nature of the election and said The Times aimed to “rededicate” itself to “the fundamental mission of Times journalism.”
In the letter, The Times posed a series of what it called inevitable questions, including, “Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters?”
Trump also claimed that the newspaper had been losing thousands of subscribers over its campaign coverage. In a Twitter message in reply to Trump, The New York Times Co. said it had seen a “surge” in new subscriptions since the election — four times the pre-election rate.
“We’re proud of our election coverage & we will continue to ‘hold power to account,’” the company said.
Trump, in another Twitter post, said The Times had falsely reported that he believed additional nations should acquire nuclear arms.
However, in an interview in March with The Times, Trump, asked about the North Korean threat to its neighbors, said he thought the United States’ allies might need their own nuclear deterrent.
“If Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us,” he said. Later, he added, “The bottom line is, I think that frankly, as long as North Korea’s there, I think that Japan having a capability is something that maybe is going to happen whether we like it or not.”
His posts on Twitter were a striking public display from a man who, after winning the election, had worked to project an air of seriousness and self-discipline, first in a victory speech early Wednesday and then in an Oval Office meeting the next day with Obama, whom he called a “good man” for whom he had “great respect.”
But by Thursday evening, Trump was using Twitter to complain about demonstrations against his victory, saying they were being mounted by “professional protesters, incited by the media,” and branding them as “very unfair!”
The social media sniping — unparalleled in the history of presidential communication — suggested Trump plans to bring his confrontational style of speaking to Americans to the White House, working to undercut news outlets that do not comport with his views, silence his critics and elevate his own standing.
On Sunday, he selected Stephen K. Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a site known for its nationalist, racially charged and conspiracy-laden coverage, to be his chief strategist and senior counselor.
It was only one indication of the extraordinary nature of the president-elect’s tactics and those of his inner circle.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Trump suggested he would not hold to the long-standing post-Watergate tradition of presidents refraining from interfering in FBI criminal matters, hinting that he would quiz the director, James B. Comey, about his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server before deciding whether to dismiss him.
“I’m not sure,” Trump said when asked if he would seek Comey’s resignation. “I would have to see — he may have had very good reasons for doing what he did.”
In an interview on Friday with The Wall Street Journal, Trump did not rule out prosecuting Clinton.
On Sunday, his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, warned that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the minority leader, could face legal action for having said that Trump’s election had “emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.”
Asked on “60 Minutes” about acts of violence that have been committed in his name, Trump said: “I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, ‘Stop it.’”
Trump has said he is proud of how he has used social media to create his own version of events and communicate it to his followers. He suggested in the “60 Minutes” interview that he is reluctant to surrender that platform when he takes the oath of office in January.
“I’m not saying I love it, but it does get the word out,” Trump said of Twitter during the interview, adding that his millions of followers on various social media sites had given him “such power” that it helped him win the election.
“When you give me a bad story, or when you give me an inaccurate story,” Trump added, “I have a method of fighting back.” He said, however, that he would be “very restrained” in his Twitter posts should he continue to make them as president.
Trump is a highly public scorekeeper of his own accolades and accomplishments, and his elevation to the highest office in the land has not changed his instinct to crow about the smallest details. During the interview, Trump boasted that since his election, he had built up his social media following by tens of thousands of people. “I’m picking up now — I think I picked up yesterday 100,000 people,” Trump said.
The interview, which also featured Trump’s wife, Melania, and adult children, showed a side of the president-elect that he did not display during the campaign — a man awed and somewhat intimidated by the significance of the office to which he had just laid claim.
“I’ve done a lot of big things, I’ve never done anything like this,” Trump said. “It is — it is so big, it is so — it’s so enormous, it’s so amazing.”
Trump said he had been inaccurately portrayed as “a little bit of a wild man” during the campaign, and he promised that he would be able to tamp down some of his more heated speech as president. But he suggested that he would still use such tactics to galvanize his supporters, just as he did during his bid for the White House.
“Sometimes you need a certain rhetoric to get people motivated,” he said. “I don’t want to be just a little nice monotone character.”