Protesters gather at Donald Trump’s Phoenix rally, senators will not attend

Pro Trump supporters face off with peace activists during protests outside a Donald Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona. (Source: Reuters) Related News

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of U.S. President Donald Trump gathered in Phoenix on Tuesday for his first political rally since he caused an uproar last week with remarks about white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Virginia. Arizona’s two U.S. senators, who have both clashed with Trump, a fellow Republican, were expected to skip the event. Protesters yelled: “Shame, shame, shame” and “No Trump, No KKK, No fascist USA” as the Trump supporters began filing into the Phoenix Convention Center ahead of the rally.

Supporters, who lined up for hours in the Arizona heat ahead of the event, chanted: “Build the wall,” a reference to Trump’s pledge to erect a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Many wore red hats with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Trump has held a series of 2020 re-election campaign stops despite only having taken office in January. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, had asked him to postpone Tuesday’s event, scheduled for 7 p.m. MST (0200 GMT on Wednesday), while the nation healed from outrage and division after a deadly rally this month in , Virginia.

Trump drew broad criticism for blaming both white nationalists and counter-protesters for the deadly violence at that rally, which was organized by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. One woman was killed. Neither John McCain nor Jeff Flake, Arizona’s senators, was expected to attend the Phoenix event, said a source familiar with Flake’s re-election campaign and published reports, underscoring Trump’s fractious relationship with some in his own party. Republican Governor Doug Ducey told the Arizona Republic on Monday that he would welcome Trump on the tarmac when he arrived but would not attend the rally. Despite speculation to the contrary, Trump was not expected to use the event to pardon Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, and an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration.

Arpaio, 85, was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case. He lost a re-election bid last year in the county. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump on Air Force One: “There will be no discussion of that today at any point and no action will be taken on that front at any point today.” Before flying to Phoenix, the state capital, Trump landed in Yuma, Arizona, near the Mexican border, for a tour of border security facilities. He is seeking congressional funding for the wall he wants built along the border to deter illegal immigration.

HEAVY POLICE PRESENCE

A heavy police presence deployed around the Phoenix venue. Some White House officials privately expressed concern on Monday about Trump’s Phoenix rally, fearing he might revisit the Charlottesville issue in the heat of the moment while cheered on by supporters. “The president is always welcome in Arizona,” Flake spokesman Will Allison said in an emailed statement. Flake “hopes the president will speak constructively about moving forward with tax reform, border security, and other important issues facing our country,” Allison said.

Earlier this summer, Flake published a book questioning the direction of the Republican Party in the Trump era, making him one of the few party members willing to criticize the president. Last week, Trump sent a tweet voicing support for Flake’s challenger, Kelli Ward, in next year’s Arizona Senate Republican primary. In the tweet, Trump called Flake “toxic” and “weak.” Michael Steel, a Republican strategist who was a senior aide to former Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, said: “Senator Flake is a popular and principled conservative voice in the United States Senate. Attacking him is stupid and counterproductive.

“Instead, the president should be focused on expanding the Republican majority by targeting obstructionist Senate Democrats, especially the ones in states he won last year.” The president has also made caustic remarks about McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and war hero, who is battling cancer. A spokesman for McCain could not immediately be reached. The Phoenix event will be Trump’s first trip as president to Arizona, which he won in the 2016 election.

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