Trump Wants More Troops on Border, Implies They Should Get 'A Little Rough'

U.S. Soldiers load into a bus at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Feb. 2, 2019. The Department of Defense has deployed units across the Southwest Boarder at the request of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (U.S. Air Force/Airman Frankie D. Moore)
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The president said he'll put more troops on the U.S.-Mexico border and suggested Democrats are standing in the way of changing laws that prohibit the military from getting "a little rough."

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he'll send more military personnel to the border, where members of his administration say the situation is deteriorating. He also said the U.S. military "can't act like they would normally act" because of "horrible laws" Democrats refuse to change.

"I'm going to have to call up more military," the president said. "Our military, don't forget, can't act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy."

It's not immediately clear what laws Trump thinks should change or how he'd like to see troops acting while operating inside their own country. The White House did not immediately respond to questions seeking clarity on the commander in chief's comments.

Trump's remarks came during a stop in San Antonio, where he met with campaign donors and talked about dangerous people coming across the border.

"Who the hell can live like this?" he asked, according to The Dallas Morning News. Without his tough border security policies, the president said, murderous migrants "will probably stay at your house," the outlet reported.

This isn't the first time Trump has hinted at wanting to change troops' rules of engagement when operating inside their own country.

When violence broke out along the Mexico-Guatemala border last year, leaving police officers injured after migrants began throwing rocks, Trump said the U.S. military was "not going to put up with that."

"Our military fights back," he said in November. "... I told [our troops], 'Consider that a rifle.' When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say 'consider it a rifle.'"

But a federal law called the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits military personnel from having direct contact with civilians to prevent it from acting as a domestic law-enforcement agency. Changing that would require an act of Congress.

Active-duty military personnel and members of the National Guard have been deploying to the southwest border for months in support of the Department of Homeland Security, which has faced an influx of migrants from Central America who are fleeing violence and other problems.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said this week that he expects the military's mission along the border to pick up, Defense News reported.

"Strictly on the basis of the volume and how much the situation there has deteriorated, I would expect us to do more," Shanahan said. That could mean setting up temporary shelters, he added, and picking up other requests "consistent with things we've done in the past," according to the outlet.

Trump and Shanahan did not say how many more troops might be sent to the border.

Critics have slammed the decision to dispatch troops to the border as a political stunt that pulls units away from more important missions. The commandant of the Marine Corps said this week that the service has had to shrink at least one training exercise due to border deployments.

Trump predicted Wednesday that border security would be "an incredible issue" in the 2020 election.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.