In one of his longest – and characteristically wide-ranging – speeches as president, Donald Trump Saturday went after both Democrats and fellow Republicans, said people are trying to get him out of office with "bull----," and announced he will be signing an executive order to require universities to support "free speech" or forfeit federal dollars.
"You know, I'm totally off script right now," Trump said early on in his approximately two-hour speech to supporters at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. "This is how I got elected, by being off script."
The remark earned him one of his standing ovations.
Trump's appearance follows a week in which his former attorney Michael Cohen accused him of criminal conduct in testimony before Congress. He also visited Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that failed to produce a nuclear weapons deal.
North Korea has contradicted Trump's account of the failed negotiations in Hanoi. And Trump was criticized Friday for his apparent acceptance of Kim's denial that he had any involvement in the death of a young American who had been held in North Korean custody.
Trump said Saturday he was in a "horrible position" over the situation with Otto Warmbier.
"In one way, I have to negotiate. In the other, I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier. And I love Otto," Trump said. "It's a very, very delicate balance."
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In his introduction of Trump, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said that when the president wants to recharge, he returns to his base.
After stepping out on the stage and hugging an American flag, Trump did a lot of recharging. He reveled in the applause and remarked more than once that the crowd was still with him during the lengthy address.
"I’m watching those doors and not one person has left," Trump said near the end, although some people did leave early. "And I’ve been up here a lifetime."
The speech was more than 30 minutes longer than Trump's previous longest speeches – a 2017 rally in Alabama and this year's State of the Union address – according to the website Factba.se, which tracks Trump’s words. At a minimum, it is 25 minutes longer than remarks at a cabinet meeting on 1/2/19.
Here are some of the highlights of the address:
Free speech executive order
Trump invited on stage Hayden Williams, a conservative activist punched on the University of California at Berkeley’s campus last month.
Praising Williams for "taking a hard punch in the face for all of us," Trump urged Williams to sue his attacker, the college and possibly the state of California.
“He’s going to be a very wealthy young man,” Trump said. “Go get ‘em, Hayden.”
He also announced he will be signing “very soon” an executive order requiring schools to “support free speech” if they want to receive federal research dollars.
“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden...to speak,” Trump said.
The crowd responded with chants of "USA! USA! USA!"
In addition to the many students attending the CPAC conference in Maryland, others were listening at satellite locations on campuses in Virginia, Colorado and California.
The White House has not announced any details about the executive order.
Dismissing the investigations
Trump denounced as a “collusion delusion” special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“We’re waiting for a report by people who weren’t elected,” Trump said. “All of a sudden, they’re trying to take you out with bull----.”
Cohen testified before Congress this week that Trump was aware of his associate Roger Stone's communications with the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks regarding emails that U.S. intelligence agencies say were stolen by Russian operatives from the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee officials.
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Trump told CPAC he was “having fun with the audience” when he publicly challenged Russia during the campaign to find Hillary Clinton’s emails.
And he complained that the investigation has morphed into inspecting every deal he’s ever done.
“I saw `Little Shifty Schiff,’” Trump said, referring to Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, “and he said, 'We’re going to look into his finances.' I said, `Where did that come from?'"
Attacking his own
Trump went after fellow Republicans and some past and current members of his administration.
He used a mock southern accent to portray former Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he would recuse "mahhself" from the special counsel’s investigation. And then he called Sessions, whom he fired in November, “weak and ineffective” because he didn’t do “what he should have done.”
The president complained that Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell likes raising interest rates and a “very strong dollar.”
He bragged about giving former Defense Secretary James Mattis the nickname “Mad Dog” but complained that “Mad Dog wasn’t working too well.” (Mattis announced in December he would step down because of disagreements with Trump ranging from Syria to global alliances.)
Trump went after Republican senators who have pushed back on the tariffs he has imposed because they want free trade.
“Where did these people come from?” Trump asked.
Trump is also facing resistance from some Republican senators over the emergency he declared to get more money for a wall along the southern border. To those who argue the declaration creates a bad precedent that future Democratic presidents will take advantage of, Trump said, Democrats are going to do "whatever they do if they get into power."
“The best way to stop that is to make sure that I win the election,” he said.
Although Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was kicking off his first official 2020 presidential campaign event on the same day, Trump did not go after Sanders by name as Vice President Mike Pence did when addressing CPAC Friday.
But Trump did accuse Democrats of abandoning the mainstream by embracing open borders, socialism and “extreme late-term abortions.”
He mocked the environmental proposal called the Green New Deal, saying a reliance on renewable energy would make electrical generation dependent on the weather.
“Darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television,” Trump mocked as he cocked his head to look up at the sky.
He also made fun of “these white-haired, long-time senators standing behind this young woman and she’s ranting and raving like a lunatic” – likely referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic freshman who introduced the Green New Deal resolution.
A playful Trump pointed to his own signature dyed mane.
“See,” he told the crowd. “I don’t have white hair.”
But after revving up the crowd with the insults, Trump joked that he should hold off on attacking Democrats and presidential hopefuls like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., whose career he said he destroyed by calling her “Pocahontas.” Trump said he doesn’t want to “knock out all of the good stuff” and end up running against someone who “actually has talent.”
“I’m going to regret this speech,” Trump said. “This speech should’ve been delivered one year from now, not now, dammit.”
Contributing: David Jackson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Donald Trump, in CPAC speech, said he'll sign 'free speech' executive order