BALTIMORE — President Donald Trump tore into his 2020 Democratic rivals, the media and even plastic straws when he addressed House Republicans Thursday during their annual retreat, providing some animated counter-programming to a Democratic debate halfway across the nation focused on candidates slamming the president.
“They should be watching the debate, but they’re probably watching us,” Trump told House Republicans.
The president kicked off the three-day retreat at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, where Republicans are planning to plot their path back to the majority and hoping to have their spirits lifted following a recent wave of GOP retirements.
And the president did not disappoint. Trump replayed some of his greatest hits through 68 minutes of wide-ranging remarks alternating between his prepared teleprompter lines and his own free-flowing stream of jabs. He slammed “sleepy” Joe Biden and “crazy” Bernie Sanders, poked fun at the Green New Deal, ripped the “fake news” media and lamented that energy-saving light bulbs make him “look orange.”
Trump also complained that he “hit Pocahontas way too early,” a reference to Elizabeth Warren’s recent rise in the polls. “I thought she was gone. She has emerged from the ashes and she could beat Sleepy Joe!“ Trump said.
Trump was scheduled to speak an hour earlier than he did — a delay that allowed him to start just as Democratic presidential candidates were taking the stage in Houston.
Trump ticked off a list of GOP accomplishments, from tax cuts to conservative judges, and hailed a pair of special election victories in North Carolina. He promised to unveil a middle-income tax cut next year, despite no real chance of passing it through a Democratic-controlled House. The president also vowed to pass his own health care legislation should the GOP win back the House, something he failed to do in his first year in office when Republicans controlled the House.
“The best is yet to come,” Trump said.
While Trump made no mention of what he plans to do on gun control following a bloody summer of shootings, he reiterated support for the right to bear arms.
“Democrats want to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens,“ Trump said to a standing ovation. “Republicans will always uphold the fundamental right to keep and bear arms.”
Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee approved guidelines for its impeachment investigation into Trump — a significant, albeit technical step for the Democratic caucus.
“They will destroy so much of what we have done,” Trump said. “I used to talk about 2016 being a very important election….this is of equal importance.”
The effort to rally Republicans comes following a bruising midterm election that swept Republicans out of power. As Trump entered the ballroom, he was greeted by a standing ovation and chants of “four more years.”
Trump also cracked some jokes — quipping that he likes the idea of cowboy hats because he wouldn’t have to worry about his “hair blowing in the wind“ — and repeatedly called out individuals from the crowd. The most quizzical line of the night, though, came after he said the Green New Deal would result in “no more cows, no more planes.”
At times, it felt like a campaign rally, with Trump even closing out his speech with his signature campaign song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
“He brought the diesel tonight. He was very jovial as he addressed the members of the Republican conference,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill. “But more importantly, he outlined why the 2020 election is so important.”
Trump’s visit to Baltimore — his first since being elected president — comes weeks after he called Maryland’s largest city a “rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” He also tore into Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who represents the city of Baltimore and chairs the House Oversight Committee — one of the six panels investigating Trump.
As he rolled up to the city, however, Trump just had two words to say: “Hello Baltimore!” he tweeted, alongside a picture of the streets.
Trump’s summer Twitter attacks on Charm City came long after congressional Republicans chose the site for their annual retreat. But over six weeks later, the divisive rhetoric was still creating headaches for GOP leaders, who were forced to defend the president’s remarks just hours before Trump’s speech on Thursday.
“I think the president coming here symbolizes that, yes, he cares about Baltimore, he cares about the people that live in Baltimore, and he does not accept that you have to stay in poverty,” McCarthy told reporters at a press conference.
Trump’s motorcade was greeted by hundreds of protesters, as well as a 14-foot inflatable rat with a Trump-like head and a cell phone in its paws with a sticker “Fight Fascism, Stop Trump.” Hundreds of onlookers, mostly snapping photos, also lined the streets, though one stuck up her middle finger as the motorcade passed by. Closer to the hotel, protesters were heard booing and seen holding up signs that said “Dump Trump Ditch Mitch” and “Impeach Trump.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are slated to address the Republican conference on Friday.
The annual retreat — the GOP’s first since being relegated to the minority — comes fresh off a critical special election win in North Carolina. Trump and the GOP had gone all out for Republican Dan Bishop, who eked out a win over Democrat Dan McCready in a district the president carried by 12 points.
“Winning is a good thing, isn’t it?” Trump said.
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