Why tensions are flaring over Trump's Phoenix rally

JUDY WOODRUFF: In his address to the nation last night, President Trump also stressed the need for unity, and urged Americans to, quote, heal our divisions within. But those divisions could be on full display tonight in Phoenix, Arizona.

Our Lisa Desjardins joins us to explain — Lisa.

LISA DESJARDINS: That's right, Judy.

This will be the president's first campaign-style rally since the tragic events in Charlottesville. He'll be talking to some of his most faithful supporters inside the Phoenix Convention Center, even as, outside, officials are bracing for thousands of protestors to greet President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DESJARDINS: Walking out into the Arizona heat, in his first trip to the sate as commander-in-chief, President Trump toured a Customs and Border Protection facility and visited with Marines in Yuma ahead of a planned campaign rally in Phoenix.

But not everyone in the western state is welcoming Trump. On Monday, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, called for Trump to delay his visit in light of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

MAYOR GREG STANTON, Phoenix, Arizona: I did not feel it was the right time to do it. It was too close after Charlottesville. That was such a difficult situation, not only for the people in Charlottesville, but for all Americans. And so a campaign-style rally so shortly thereafter, I did not think was appropriate.

LISA DESJARDINS: Trump's fellow Republican, Governor Doug Ducey, plans to greet him at the Phoenix airport, but not attend the Phoenix rally, saying he needs to focus on working with law enforcement toward a safe event.

And the president is on shaky ground with both of Arizona's senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake. Most recently, the Republican senators condemned the president's response to Charlottesville. In turn, President Trump tweeted support last week for Flake's primary opponent, adding that the senator is weak on borders and toxic.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look at all these women for Trump, you know?

LISA DESJARDINS: Arizona is also a state where candidate Trump saw large crowds of both supporters and protesters during the campaign.

PROTESTERS: Dump Trump, dump hate. Get the fascists out of our state.

ANNOUNCER: From Maricopa County, Arizona, please welcome Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

LISA DESJARDINS: Among his prominent Arizona supporters, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a figure known for his controversial approaches to law enforcement.

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, Maricopa County, Arizona: I have fought on the front lines to prevent illegal immigration. And I know Donald Trump will stand with me and other proud Americans to secure our border.

LISA DESJARDINS: In July, Arpaio was convicted of a misdemeanor for ignoring a judge's order to stop his anti-immigrant traffic patrols. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October. But the president told FOX News he is seriously considering a pardon of the divisive sheriff.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DESJARDINS: And late today, a White House spokeswoman said Mr. Trump will not use tonight's rally to announce a pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Joining us now outside the Phoenix Convention Center, where the president will speak tonight, is Vanessa Ruiz, of Arizona PBS.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Can you just set the scene for us, the size of the crowd, the temperature of people, and of the air? It's incredibly hot there today, isn't it?

VANESSA RUIZ, Arizona PBS: Yes, it is, Lisa. In fact, it's 107 degrees right now here in the city of Phoenix. But so far, it seems that cooler heads are prevailing.

I'm going to step outside for just a quick second so you can see behind me. That is the Phoenix Convention Center. It's located in downtown right in the heart of the city. And as you ses there, there's already a huge line wrapping around the entire building. People lining up since about 9:00 this morning, waiting to enter the convention center to go ahead and be part of that rally that is being held by President Donald Trump.

At this hour, I can tell you I have been here on the scene now since about noontime, and there's been no major incidents reported. I can tell you the area where the counterprotests have been set up, that's located on the north side of the building here of the convention center. And until about 40 minutes ago, I would say there were about two dozen people there tops.

Certainly, I can tell you also that Phoenix police have made it a point to say that, today, they are what they are calling in maximum staffing mode. They've also been working with the National Guard and also with the Secret Service to make sure that those who do want to come out here and let their voices and opinions be heard can do so safely and securely. What they really do not want, of course, Lisa, is to see a repeat of what we saw unfortunately happen in Charlottesville, Virginia.

LISA DESJARDINS: Vanessa, I saw the "Daily Mail" editor tweet out shortly ago that he thought there were at least 4,000 people there already. They've been waiting in that heat all day.

You know, we know the mayor wanted this canceled. We know that the top Republicans in the state, a governor and two senators, are not expected to be there.

But what can you tell us about Trump supporters, the ones showing up? What do they think of his Charlottesville remarks? And what do they think of this rally tonight?

VANESSA RUIZ: Listen, I think it's very clear when you look at the images that are happening right now around this convention center — Trump supporters here, they follow him. They're still with the president. Arizona has been a red conservative state for many, many years, although I do have to mention that in the 2016 election, Hillary Trump (ph) was behind Donald Trump just by 3.5 percent.

So, right now, you know, some say at some point, Arizona could actually turn purple. But again, those people here today are with their water bottles, their umbrellas, their signs. They're here to say, I stand with my president. And to them, the criticism he has received, at least from what I have been heard and from the people I've been speaking to out here, they say he's simply just a man who is misunderstood. But again, they are standing by whom they call their commander-in-chief.

And for them, you know, Arizona people, they're tough. They're going to come out here. They're used to this heat. They're coming prepared. They want to hear what he has to say during that rally.

LISA DESJARDINS: Vanessa, what can you tell us about police preparations for this? There's a lot of concern around the country at events just like this one tonight.

VANESSA RUIZ: Well, you know, certainly, it's caught some people off guard that Arizona was going to be that first place where President Trump was going to be having one of his public rallies. It's his first visit as commander-in-chief here in the state of Arizona. But he was here seven times as a candidate during the campaign. He knows he has a strong base here in Arizona.

(CROSSTALK)

LISA DESJARDINS: Do you have a sense of how the police are prepared for this enough? I'm just checking. It looks like they feel pretty good about the situation. Yes.

VANESSA RUIZ: Yes, barricades, they have people on staff both on foot, bicycles, inside the convention center, outside the convention center.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams has very clearly said, we are here to allow people to voice their opinions, but we're going to do so in a safe and security manner, and no kind of violence will be tolerated.

LISA DESJARDINS: All right. Vanessa Ruiz of Arizona PBS, try and get some shade, and thank you for talking with us.

VANESSA RUIZ: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a reminder, you can live stream President Trump's rally this evening on our Website, pbs.org/newshour.

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