Trump hints of future pardon for Arpaio, scolds Arizona senators McCain, Flake

PHOENIX – President Donald Trump returned to Phoenix on Tuesday, greeted by warm temperatures and warmth from supporters crowded into the downtown Phoenix Convention Center and flinging heat about illegal immigration, the media and Arizona leaders.

He threaded references to Arizona elected officials throughout the speech, calling out support for his ally, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and scolding his Republican foes, Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.

Trump stopped short of pardoning Arpaio on a criminal contempt of court conviction but hinted one could still come.

Teen libertarian Peter Tavany waits in line for the rally by himself. “I would assume this crowd would be a lot more violent,” he says. (Photo by Ashley Ballard/Cronkite News)

“I’ll make a prediction – I think he’s going to be just fine, OK,” Trump said about Arpaio. “But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy.”

Arpaio was simply doing his job in fighting illegal immigration, the president said. The former sheriff is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5 for flouting a judge’s orders to stop targeting Latinos in traffic stops. Immigration activists and Democratic leaders had criticized a possible pardon.

Trump turned his attention to the failed replacement of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

“We were one vote away from repealing,” Trump said, who said he was being “very presidential” by not mentioning the name of the lawmaker casting the deciding “no” vote.

McCain flew to Washington, D.C. after surgery for brain cancer to deal the death knell to a Republican plan. Trump also did not name Flake, who has openly scorned the president, but said Arizona’s “other senator” is weak on crime and borders.

Fight Hatred Sign in Crowd

Second Street gets crowded as more counterprotestors arrive at the Trump rally in front of the Phoenix Convention Center. (Photo by Andrea Jaramillo Valencia/Cronkite News)

He praised Arizona Congressional members Trent Franks, Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs.

Trump, on his first visit to Arizona since he was elected in November, struck familiar notes about an America for all, saying it is a “movement based on love.” He said the media had twisted his condemnation of “those who perpetuate hate and violence,” referring to the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist rally where one protester was killed.

Trump, who was criticized by both sides of the political aisle for a late response where he said “both sides” were at fault, said the media twisted his words and his response.

“They’re trying to take away our history and our heritage,” Trump said of the media, accompanied by applause and thumbs down to show they agreed.

He mentioned protesters outside the Phoenix Convention Center, who hours before the rally traded opinions and jibes with Trump supporters waiting for doors to open to the convention center. There was no violence in the hours leading up to the rally but police deployed tear gas on protesters after the rally ended, according to video of the scene by local news outlets.

Minutes earlier, inside the convention center, supporters dotted Trump’s speech with chants, like “USA! USA!” And “Build that wall.”

Military veteran Ralph Medima, 68, offers to sell “Make America Great Again” hats to those passing by. (Photo by Ashley Ballard/Cronkite News)

Trump touched on popular points from the campaign trail, such as renegotiating NAFTA, building a border wall and fighting illegal immigration, bringing back jobs to struggling American workers, “draining the swamp” in D.C. and tax reform.

“We are committed to passing the first major tax reform in over 30 years,” he said. “Now, we need the help of Congress, please. We really could use some Democrat help.”

Early in his speech, the president fondly recalled the first time he came to Arizona.

“This was the scene of my first rally speech,” he said. Trump visited Arizona seven times as a candidate.

As he ended his first speech in Arizona as the nation’s president, he revived touch points about America.

“American hands will build this future. American energy will power this future… American workers will bring this future to life,” he said.