(CNN) – President Donald Trump is walking back a controversial comment he made Thursday about the migrant caravan traveling to the U.S.
He seemed to suggest that the military would shoot any migrants throwing rocks at U.S. troops deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Friday, one day after he all but gave the green light to troops to fire upon the migrants, the president backtracked, saying those soldiers will be making arrests instead of shooting if they’re hit with rocks.
"They won't have to fire. What I don't want is, I don't want these people throwing rocks,” Trump said. “They do that with us, they're going to be arrested. There's going to be problems. I didn't say shoot. I didn't say shoot."
On Thursday, Trump said: “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We’re going to consider it – I told them consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say consider it a rifle.”
Critics pounced, calling that an abuse of the commander-in-chief’s authority.
"You don't use maximum force. You use minimum force,” said retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark. “And you don't attack. You defend. You restore order. So, he has it all wrong."
The president’s incendiary rhetoric on immigration is throwing the GOP off its message on the economy.
He’s riding the issue of immigration more than any other heading into next week’s midterm elections, with continued vows to end birthright citizenship even though it’s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Trump hinted at why he’s throwing so many punches before the midterms.
As he told a rally in Missouri, he sensed Republican momentum stalling after a Trump supporter allegedly sent pipe bombs to Democratic politicians and CNN, and when an anti-Semitic gunman was accused of committing mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
"We did have two maniacs stop the momentum that was incredible,” Trump said.” Because for seven days nobody talked about the elections. It stopped the tremendous momentum."
That sense of desperation may also explain a misleading Trump campaign web ad, which falsely blamed Democrats for allowing cop killer Luis Bracamontes into the U.S.
The Sacramento Bee newspaper found Bracamontes had been deported under Democratic President Bill Clinton.
After he sneaked back into the U.S., he was arrested and released by Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Trump supporter, before he was deported again. He re-entered the country when Republican President George W. Bush was in office.
Pressed on his rhetoric by reporters, Trump accused the media of causing violence.
"No, no, you know what? You're creating violence by your questions. You are creating – you – and also a lot of the reporters are creating violence by not writing the truth. The fake news is creating violence," he said.
Campaigning with Democrats in Florida, former President Barack Obama said voters have a clear choice next week.
"In the closing weeks of this election, we have seen repeated attempts to divide us, with rhetoric designed to make us angry and make us fearful,” Obama said. “They'll get folks riled up just to protect their power and their privilege."
Expect Trump to keep up the heated rhetoric heading into next week’s midterms.
The Washington Post fact-checkers said the president has made more than a thousand false or misleading claims in just the month of October.