A subdued President Donald Trump, leading an administration with key senior positions in flux and the potential for new damaging disclosures from special counsel Robert Mueller, fell back on more comfortable issues in his Kansas City speech Friday: immigration and his coveted border wall.
“Illegal immigration is a threat to the well-being of every American community, threatening innocent families, overwhelming public resources and draining the federal treasury,” Trump told a law enforcement conference sponsored by the Department of Justice. “Congress must fully fund border security in the year ending funding bill. We have to get this done.”
Trump’s appearance came amid a heavy news day, even by the turbulent standards of the Trump era. Before a late-morning landing at Kansas City International Airport, he launched a tweet storm against Mueller, former FBI director James Comey and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
He also announced new nominees for attorney general and United Nations ambassador. While he was in the air, multiple news outlets reported that the long-expected departure of Chief of Staff John Kelly could happen in a matter of days.
Just after his speech, Trump fired back at former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who criticized the president’s predilection for Tweets and lack of policy depth in a Houston appearance Thursday evening. He tweeted that Tillerson “didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell.”
Trump addressed the final day of the Justice Department’s Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference at the Westin Crown Center. The three-day event was attended by around 700 people, including U.S. attorneys, police chiefs and prosecutors, some of them armed and wearing their badges as they walked around the conference hotel.
He applauded the program’s impact on violent crime, but quickly pivoted to immigration, denouncing “sanctuary cities” and calling for funds to build the border wall, an issue that may cause a government shutdown just before Christmas.
“American politicians should protect American citizens not criminal aliens,” Trump said. “Not one more American life should be stolen because of radical politicians pursuing their open borders agenda.”
He compared the cost of the wall to the impact of illegal heroin on the federal government’s finances.
“We’re talking about a wall for $20 billion, $15 billion, (we) could do it even cheaper (if) I have to, and it’ll be better than anybody’s ever seen a wall. Think of that,” he said.
People against the wall, are “playing political games,” Trump said.
“I actually think the politics of what they’re doing is very bad for them, but we’re going to very soon find out,” Trump said.
Maybe he’s not right, Trump said.
“But usually I’m right,” Trump said. “Like I said, I’m going to win for president. And some people said, that won’t happen.
“And guess what, look who’s up here now folks,” Trump said to applause from the law enforcement filled crowd.
Trump’s claims about undocumented immigrants draining resources from the federal government are “a clear lie,” said Alex Martinez, a DACA recipient who is the director of the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance.
“It’s a tactic to incite fear to mobilize his base against people like me,” Martinez said. “To make them fear me, just an immigrant person who’s trying to do everything to participate in this democracy, to make this country better.”
Trump had little to say about Kansas City during his brief appearance. He seemed subdued and distracted for portions of the speech, praising crime fighting efforts “right here in St. Louis.”
Early on, Trump mentioned his frequent presence in the area to help Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in his successful Senate run.
“Josh really stepped up to the plate,” Trump said. “You know in life, you never know. You pick somebody, looks good, sounds good, think he’s smart. And then the choke. They choke like dogs.”
Trump paid only a moment of attention to the decision to nominate William Barr, the former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, for the nation’s leading law enforcement office. He also announced Friday that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is his choice to succeed Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the United Nations.