White House defends controversial Trump campaign ad

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday defended a controversial ad released by President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE’s campaign over the weekend that accused Democrats of being “complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.”

At Monday's press briefing, Sanders defended the ad's central claim. 

“I think if people are unwilling to secure our borders and unwilling to end chain migration, unwilling to end the visa lottery system and unwilling to fix all of the problems we have in our immigration system and aren’t willing to negotiate and actually do things to fix a system that we know to be problematic, then yes, that's a problem and would allow for future incidents to take place,” Sanders said.

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The ad was released over the weekend as lawmakers on Capitol Hill sought common ground on immigration reform in an effort to pass a spending bill that would reopen the government.

"President Trump is right — build the wall, deport criminals, stop illegal immigration now," the ad says, showing clips of Democratic Minority Leaders Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel MORE (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' MORE (Calif.). "Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants." 

Critics blasted the ad, saying it would inflame tensions on Capitol Hill at a time when lawmakers were working feverishly for a compromise.

Sanders dismissed questions about whether the ad would make it more difficult for Democrats and Republicans to work on immigration reform going forward.

“The president's number one focus is our national security,” Sanders said. “He's been very strong on discussing the need for border security and tying that directly to national security. That was a big focus of the president's campaign at the time and also since he's become president.”

At the end of the ad, Trump says he approves the message. But Sanders argued on Monday the campaign ads “aren’t being run by the White House.”

 “I can’t get into any details, but his position on the need for border security is something we have talked about and have been clear on,” she said.