Trump tones down polarizing campaign promises, rhetoric in 60 Minutes interview

President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview to air on Sunday that certain areas of his promised border wall with Mexico, a key part of his White House campaign platform, could be a fence instead.

President-elect says certain areas of promised border wall could be a fence

President-elect Donald Trump told 60 Minutes that parts of his border wall with Mexico could be fence instead. (CBS)

President-elect Donald Trump backed away from his promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, saying some areas could instead be "fencing," and added he would move to deport up to three million immigrants in the country illegally who have criminal records.

Trump, whose pledge to force Mexico to pay for a border wall was a centrepiece of his presidential campaign, said in "certain areas" he would accept fencing instead of a brick-and-mortar wall, in his interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes.

"But certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I'm very good at this, it's called construction, there could be some fencing," the New York real estate developer said.

Since his Tuesday election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump and his senior advisers have signaled he may hedge on some of his major campaign promises once he takes office on Jan. 20, including on immigration, healthcare and appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton.

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In the 60 Minutes interview, Trump had good things to say about President Barack Obama and the Clintons, whom he sparred with viciously throughout his campaign. 

"I found him to be terrific, very smart and very nice — great sense of humour," he said of Obama.

Trump said they didn't discuss the negative things both said about each other on the campaign trail when they met in the White House on Thursday and that the meeting wasn't awkward for him. 

Trump also told 60 Minutes that he's a "very sober" person and says he'll conduct himself "in a very good manner" as the nation's president; however, he added that his manner "depends on what the situation is."

Asked if he's going to use the same, sometimes divisive rhetoric he used during the campaign, he replied that "sometimes you need a certain rhetoric to get people motivated."

During the campaign, Trump said he would deport the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, most of whom are Hispanic. Trump said Mexico was sending criminals and rapists into the U.S. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

'We are getting them out of our country'

Trump said once he takes office he would remove immigrants with criminal records who are in the country illegally.

"What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we're getting them out of our country," he told 60 Minutes.

During the campaign, Trump said he would deport the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, most of whom are Hispanic. Trump said Mexico was sending criminals and rapists into the United States.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who will play a key role in getting Trump's agenda through the Republican-led Congress, backed away from Trump's promise during the campaign of a "deportation force" to round up and deport immigrants in the country illegally.

"We are not planning on erecting a deportation force. Donald Trump's not planning on that," Ryan told CNN's State of the Union. "I think we should put people's minds at ease. That is not what our focus is. That is not what we're focused on. We're focused on securing the border."

Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 House Republican, said on Fox News Sunday the wall with Mexico could in parts be a "virtual" wall patrolled by drones.

"You have to put a wall, it could be all virtual with the UAV airplanes as well, but I think that is doable and one of the first things that needs to be done," McCarthy said, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

With files from CBC News