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In unfiltered Phoenix speech, Trump attacks critics and threatens shutdown over border wall

August 23, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
President Trump delivered a freewheeling speech Tuesday night in Phoenix, where he mocked critics of his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, heavily criticized the media, as well as fellow Republicans. Mr. Trump also met with Border Patrol officers along the Mexican border and later declared he will do whatever necessary to achieve one of his signature campaign promises. John Yang reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: From the president today, a return to measured tones, and a message of unity. This, only hours after he sounded off in a full-throated denunciation of those he sees as not sharing his views.

John Yang begins our coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN YANG: Addressing the American Legion National Convention today in Reno, Nevada, President Trump largely stayed on message.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is time to heal the wounds that divided us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are one people, with one home and one great flag.

What a crowd.

JOHN YANG: But at a rally organized and paid for by his re-election campaign in Phoenix Tuesday night, for 77 minutes, it was Mr. Trump unscripted and unfiltered. He mocked critics of his evolving reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and defended his words.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He didn’t say it fast enough. He didn’t do it on time. Why did it take a day? He must be a racist. It took a day.

I hit ’em with neo-Nazi. I hit ’em with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there, let’s say. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all.

JOHN YANG: But Mr. Trump did not mention what drew critics’ ire — his previous remarks equating hate groups and those protesting them.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

JOHN YANG: As the president spoke last night, a leader of the white separatist movement, which calls itself the alt-right, tweeted: Trump has never denounced the alt-right. Nor will he.

Before the speech, Mr. Trump met with Border Patrol officers along the Mexican border, and later declared he will do whatever it takes to achieve a signature campaign promise, even shut down the government.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we are building a wall on the southern border, which is absolutely necessary.

AUDIENCE: Build that wall! Build that wall!

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Build that wall! Now, the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.

JOHN YANG: Today, House leaders in both parties rejected the idea. Speaker Paul Ryan —

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: I don’t think in anyone’s interested in having a shutdown. I don’t think it’s in our interest to do so. I don’t think you have to choose between the two.

JOHN YANG: Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused the president of threatening to cause chaos in the lives of millions of Americans if he doesn’t get his way. She said Democrats will stand fast against the immoral, ineffective border wall.

The president also said talks on renegotiating NAFTA, which began just last week, are likely headed for failure.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Personally, I don’t think we can make a deal, because we have been so badly taken advantage of. So I think we’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point, OK? Probably.

JOHN YANG: And Mr. Trump electrified the crowd by hinting at a presidential pardon for former local sheriff Joe Arpaio. He’s awaiting sentencing for defying a federal court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants. He faces up to six months in jail.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? That’s what —

(CHEERS)

I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine, OK?

JOHN YANG: As the president spoke, emotions ran high both inside the arena, and on the streets outside, where hundreds of protesters gathered.

While it was mostly calm, police used tear gas after they said rocks and bottles were thrown at them. Officials reported at least four arrests and no injuries.

Mr. Trump’s Phoenix performance was reminiscent of last year’s campaign — seemingly free of any constraints or inhibitions. And, as in last year’s campaign, it caused critics to question the president’s fitness for office.

On CNN, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

JAMES CLAPPER, Former Director of National Intelligence: I found this downright scary and disturbing. So, there’s very little in the way of controls over, you know, exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.

JOHN YANG: But Mr. Trump’s core supporters loved it and their applause, cheers and chants were music to the president’s ears.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

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