TOLEDO, Ohio — President Donald Trump moved into reelection mode on Thursday with a boisterous rally here in which he blasted Democrats for trying to oust him just as he ordered the killing of two foreign fighters he called the biggest “monsters” on the planet.
Trump condemned House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for voting in favor of two articles of impeachment last month but then holding them back from the Senate, which will be tasked with holding a trial to determine whether the president is removed from office.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said. “They don’t even know what the hell is going on. In fact, it’s so weak. She doesn’t want to put in the articles. It’s so weak. They’re so pathetic.”
Trump mocked Pelosi by saying she’s “not operating with a full deck,” and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) as “you little pencil neck" and then added “He buys the smallest shirt collar you can get, and it’s loose!" He returned to his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, again dubbing her “crooked Hillary” and prompting the familiar “Lock her up!” chant from the crowd.
The president boasted of killing Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as well the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died in a U.S. raid in northwestern Syria in October.
“He was a bad guy,” Trump said of Soleimani. “He was a bloodthirsty terrorist, and he’s no longer a terrorist. He’s dead, and yet now I see ... the radical-left Democrats have expressed outrage over the termination of this horrible terrorist. And you know, instead they should be outraged by Soleimani’s savage crimes and the fact that his countless victims were denied justice for so long.”
As he was talking, a man in the crowd yelled, “Kill them all!”
The president said: “We stopped him quickly, and we stopped him cold.”
Late last week, Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq, prompting Iran to retaliate with a missile strike against Iraqi air bases housing U.S. troops. By Wednesday, the president sought to de-escalate the crisis in a White House address announcing sanctions rather than military retaliation.
“So we seek friends, not enemies,” Trump told the crowd in the 8,000-seat Huntington Center on Thursday. “But if you dare to threaten our citizens, you do so at your own grave peril.”
Democrats blame Trump for engaging in a confrontation with Iran as a way to distract from his impeachment. The House voted largely along party lines earlier Thursday evening to restrict the president’s authority for military action against Iran after intelligence briefings failed to satisfy several lawmakers on the justification for Soleimani’s killing.
The violence between the U.S. and Iran came as the Senate is preparing to hold the impeachment trial, though the timing remains uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to move forward on a set of trial rules without Democratic support.
The House approved the two articles of impeachment in a mostly party-line vote on Dec. 18 — charging Trump with abuse of power for soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election and obstruction of Congress for blocking the House’s efforts to investigate him — making Trump the first president to face an impeachment trial while seeking reelection.
On Thursday night, the president lashed out at some of his 2020 Democratic rivals — Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., for having a name that Trump says no one can pronounce, dubbing him “Alfred E. Neuman” and “Howdy Doody”; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren for inflating her Native American heritage, once again mocking her as “Pocahontas.”
But he saved the most criticism for Biden, the Democratic frontrunner, who he said didn’t know the difference between Iran and Iraq because he mixed up the two countries when speaking this week. “He’s gotten it wrong four times,” Trump said.
“It’s, like, my job to try and watch what’s the competition, but it’s like watching death,” he said. “Those debates are boring and boring. You got to sit through those things for two or three hours. You got to really be committed to the country to do that. I mean, you have some real beauties.”
House Democrats officially launched an impeachment inquiry after learning that Trump had asked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.
Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have accused Biden, while he was serving as vice president, of helping secure lucrative deals for his son, who at one time served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma Holdings. Trump and Giuliani have defended their efforts, saying it was part of a broader effort to eradicate corruption in the former Soviet republic.
Then Trump laid into Hunter Biden, whom he accused of trading off his father’s name in Ukraine and China.
“As soon as sleepy Joe became vice president, right, he made millions of dollars a year,” Trump said. “Ukraine took care of him. How about China? He walked out with 1.5 billion to manage and he never did it before, he didn’t know anything about oil and gas, he was making a fortune.”
Trump said he hoped Democrats would give Biden the nomination so the pressure would stay on his son.
“So, where’s Hunter? Where the hell are you, Hunter?” he said. “But I’ll tell you, I sort of hope it’s Joe, because he will hear ‘Where’s Hunter?’ every single debate, nine times a debate.”
Trump’s 90-minute speech veered from one issue to another — from the booming economy to the increase of funding in the military, from the “corrupt” media to the Nobel Peace Prize, from the opioid epidemic to the wall on the southern border. He even boasted of completing what he said he would do — and more. “I’ve completed more promises than I’ve made,” he said.
The president praised the first phase of a trade deal he made with China that will be signed next week at the White House.
“We’ll sign that terrific and fully enforceable Phase One trade deal with China,” he said. “And again, we’re keeping the tariffs on because we’ll use that for another one. We are taking billions — you remember what I said: We’re not paying for it, because China devalued their currency and they put a lot of money into the pot. We’re not paying for it. And now they’re starting to say, I guess he was right.”
Thousands of supporters at the Huntington Center, many wearing Make America Great Again hats and waving Trump-Pence signs, cheered. He was interrupted once by protesters in the arena, one who was holding a sign that said “bone spurs” — alluding to the medical reason Trump has given for avoiding military service in Vietnam.
The arena, decorated in the typical way for a rally, was full. A large U.S. flag was erected on one side. “Keep America Great!” showed on blue digital monitors.
Hundreds of people protested outside, and hundreds more supporters stood in an overflow area with a large video screen showing the rally.
Trump is looking to repeat his 2016 victory in Ohio, a state that has voted for every presidential election victor but one since 1944 and is vital to Trump’s hopes in November.
Ohio has trended Republican in more recent elections. Trump beat Clinton here in 2016 by 8 percentage points, though he lost Toledo — the site of Thursday’s rally — and the surrounding county of Lucas.
The Trump campaign credits the president with helping bring 94,700 new jobs, including 14,700 manufacturing jobs, back to the state.
“This is where they want to be,” the president said on Thursday night. “They want to be in the United States. That’s where the action is. They’re all coming back. I used to go around and talk about how everyone’s leaving. Now they’re all coming back. New ones, old ones, they’re all coming back and many are coming right here to Ohio. And just in case you didn’t know it, Ohio just had the best year economically in the history of your state.”
But earlier this week, Toledo-area Democrats accused the Trump administration of implementing policies that have hurt the region — failing to send money to the area for economic development and environmental restoration efforts.
Trump is expected to increase the number of rallies he headlines now that Democratic voters are beginning the process of choosing a nominee to face him in November. He has two others scheduled for this month — in Wisconsin on the 14th and in New Jersey on the 28th.
The Democrats’ nominating process kicks off with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, quickly followed by contests in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, all leading to Super Tuesday on March 3, when a slate of states will vote.
Polls show Trump’s approval rating hovering around 45 percent and in close competition with the leading Democratic candidates in the swing states that will likely determine the winner this year.
Matthew Choi contributed to this report.