President Donald Trump says he’s not satisfied with the explanations he’s heard about the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia said he was killed in a “fistfight.” Turkish officials say he was killed by a Saudi hit squad. (Oct. 22)
HOUSTON – President Donald Trump blasted Democrats over immigration during a raucous rally in Texas on Monday, telling a packed arena that the caravan of Central Americans winding its way to the border would be a defining issue in the midterms.
Speaking at a rally to support incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz’s reelection campaign, Trump ramped up his effort to tie the thousands-strong group of immigrants to the Democrats hours after he claimed, without evidence, that the caravan included “unknown Middle Easterners.”
“The Democrats have launched an assault on the sovereignty of our country,” Trump told thousands gathered in the Houston Toyota Center. “The crisis on our border right now as we speak is the sole result of Democrat laws and activist, Democrat judges.”
Trump hit on most of his regular campaign themes during the speech, touting the strong domestic economy, the confirmation earlier this month of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and what he described as globalist forces in Washington that he said are more interested in other countries than in the United States.
“You know what I am?” Trump said to hearty applause. “I’m a nationalist.”
Trump repeated a claim that “the Democrats had something to do” with the caravan of Central Americans working its way toward the United States. Neither the president nor the White House have provided evidence of that claim, which Democrats have denied.
The president touted a proposed new round of tax cuts, an idea he first raised over the weekend. Trump said he is aiming for a 10 percent reduction in taxes for middle class families, though he offered little detail about the timing or the specifics of that proposal, which appeared to catch congressional Republicans off guard.
“We’re going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle income families,” Trump said. “It’s going to be put in next week.”
The rally followed an exclusive interview with USA TODAY aboard Air Force One en route to Texas in which Trump described the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a “plot gone awry” but indicated he would not support ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He also vowed to send as many troops as necessary to the border to halt the caravan of Central Americans.
Trump has scheduled some three dozen rallies this year, focusing on battleground Senate contests such as Montana, Missouri and Indiana, and is stepping up the pace considerably as the election nears. After vowing to fill the “biggest stadium in Texas,” the campaign elected last week to move the rally to a larger venue.
In visiting Texas, Trump weighed into a rare race this cycle where a Republican is defending a state the president carried in 2016. Though Rep. Beto O’Rourke has energized Democrats and raised eye-popping campaign funds, Cruz has been moving up in polls, with the last several surveys showing him ahead by high double digits.
Sporting black Cowboy boots, Cruz greeted Trump at the base of the stairs of Air Force One. The handshakes and smiles belied the personal animosity that defined their relationship during the presidential primary campaign, when Trump referred to Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” and the senator blasted Trump for having “New York values.”
Trump acknowledged the rocky times with Cruz in his remarks, noting that “we had our little difficulties, right?” But he also described his relationship as a “love fest.”
“Then it got nasty,” Trump said. “And then it ended and I’ll tell you what: Nobody has helped me more.”
The president described O’Rourke as a “phony” and a “radical, open-border, left winger.” The O’Rourke campaign did not respond to a request for comment about Trump’s rally.
Cruz, predicting Trump would be overwhelmingly reelected in 2020, noted how he worked with the president on the initial round of Republican tax cuts.
“Do we continue on the road to prosperity or do we turn back to Obama stagnation?” Cruz said.
Democrats were quick to blast Trump’s appearance for Cruz, which came on the first day of in-person early voting in the state. Hitting on healthcare, education and other issues that Democratic voters often cite as their top priorities, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the party wouldn’t be thrown off guard by the visit.
“Texans don’t want shameless rubber stamps for Trump’s dangerously out-of-touch and reckless agenda,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “We won’t let Trump distract us.”
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