PHOENIX — President Trump unleashed a lengthy tirade against the media over coverage of his comments of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., before telegraphing clemency for a controversial former Arizona sheriff and promising continued action on America’s borders.
For more than 20 minutes, Trump rehashed his initial comments on Charlottesville, ripped the “truly dishonest media” and invited lusty boos about it all from the estimated 10,000 people who attended the speech at the Phoenix Convention Center.
“It’s time to expose the crooked-media deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in formenting (sic) divisions,” he said. “For the most part, honestly, these are really, really dishonest people.”
Trump eventually turned his attention back to familiar themes such as stricter immigration-enforcement efforts, a border wall and an economy that continues to produce a record number of jobs.
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Trump said he would not immediately pardon Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County sheriff who oversaw a racial-profiling campaign that resulted in his criminal conviction for contempt of court. But Trump predicted, “He’ll be just fine.”
Trump said the Senate needs to change its rules to ease passage of his agenda, a reference to the lingering disappointment over the failure of Republican-led health-care reforms.
Trump’s approval rating has fallen below 35% in some national polls, but enthusiasm for him appeared unwavering among his supporters at the Phoenix rally.
Kyle Beach drove from Los Angeles to hear “truth” from Trump. He wore a shirt bearing an image of Seth Rich, a murdered Democratic aide, and said he wants to know more about what happened in that matter, which is widely viewed as a discredited conspiracy theory.
“President Trump is the only one who speaks the truth. He’s the only one who tells it like it is, and that’s the most important thing to me,” said Beach, 29, a designer.
Trump’s opponents tied him to the Ku Klux Klan and urged his ouster.
"I do not like that man. He does not belong in the White House," the 58-year-old receptionist said. “He needs to be impeached. He needs to go."
By backing away from an Arpaio pardon, Trump may have — at least for the moment — defused some of his most vocal opponents in the Hispanic and immigrant communities. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat who earlier had asked the president to not hold a rally in the city so soon after the violence in Charlottesville, said in a tweet that the decision showed the “power of ... fighting for justice.”
Some Trump fans also showed support for Kelli Ward, the former Arizona state senator who is challenging incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake’s re-election campaign, seemingly with Trump’s approval. Trump and Flake have traded barbs for more than a year, and the relationship has only grown more bitter since Flake published a book that attacked Trump.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is receiving treatment for brain cancer, was not expected to attend Trump’s rally. Last month, McCain helped thwart the GOP’s health-care legislation, a move that touched off another round of intraparty fighting for Trump and Republicans.