WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump defended his actions on Iran, promoted his anti-immigration policies and argued the Democrats who want to replace him don't have what it takes to keep America safe during a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wisc., on Tuesday.
Trump railed against leading Democratic contenders Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as they squared off with three other Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa for the last debate before the state's caucuses.
"Bernie [Sanders] and the radical left cannot protect your family and they cannot protect our country, nor do they want to," he told supporters during a nearly 90-minute speech at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
He mocked Sanders' rise in recent polls, telling the crowd, "Bernie is surging," before weighing in on a spat between the Vermont senator and Warren over whether he told her in 2018 he did not believe a woman could win the 2020 election.
"He's a nasty guy," he said of Sanders, adding that he didn't believe the story about him.
The president also defended the U.S. drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who led the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, describing the Iranian general as "the world's no. 1 terrorist" and "king of the roadside bombs."
"Great percentages of people don’t have legs right now and arms because of this son of a b----," he said. "And the Democrats should be outraged by Soleimani’s evil crimes, not the decision to end his wretched life."
Trump and top administration officials said Soleimani was "plotting imminent and sinister attacks" against Americans in justifying the surprise strike, but have not offered evidence of such plans. He mocked critics who have questioned whether Soleimani had planned "imminent" attacks.
"I think they're gonna start a new investigation. Was the attack imminent?"
Democrats have expressed frustration over Trump's authorization of the drone strike on Soleimani - a decision that heightened U.S.-Iranian tensions and sparked fears of a broader conflict in the Middle East. The Senate is expected to vote on a resolution aimed at barring Trump from ordering military action against Iran without congressional approval.
The president also praised Iranians protesting against the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his government over the downing Revolutionary Guard Corp's downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed all 176 on board. Trump said he warned Tehran not to harm any protesters because "the whole world is watching."
"We support the Iranian people and their courageous struggle for freedom," he said. "The protesters are on our side."
Trump also dwelt on the siege of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad before Soleimani was killed, saying he wanted to make sure it wasn't "another Benghazi" - a hot button issue for conservatives critical of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As he spoke of Benghazi, supporters broke into chants of "Lock Her Up," referring to his 2016 opponent.
As Trump spoke in Wisconsin Democratic candidates in the neighboring state of Iowa said Trump's risky moves could get the nation involved in a new war like Vietnam or Iraq.
"Right now, what I fear very much is we have a President who is lying again, and could drag us into a war that is even worse than the war in Iraq," Sanders said of recent U.S-Iran tensions.
Trump's speech was interrupted at least three times by protesters, one of whom was waving a "Bernie Beats Trump" sign as he yelled at the president.
Throughout his speech, Trump also touted the construction of his long-promised border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He insisted Mexico would pay for the wall, but both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have complained about the administration's plan to divert nearly $7.2 billion from Pentagon to fund its construction, according to a Washington Post report.
Following his speech, Trump echoed his remarks in a pair of tweets lashing out at Democrats as "the party of high taxes, high crime, open borders, late-term abortion, socialism, and blatant corruption." He praised Republicans as the party for "ALL AMERICANS."
"We are a big tent, & a big party, w/ BIG IDEAS for the future!" he tweeted.
Democrats are now the party of high taxes, high crime, open borders, late-term abortion, socialism, and blatant corruption. The Republican Party is the party of the American Worker, the American Family, and the American Dream! #TrumpMilwaukeeRally pic.twitter.com/LAl96RE49h
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2020
The campaign rally comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would vote Wednesday to send the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, setting the stage for a trial to begin Jan. 21.
Pelosi delayed sending the articles, which accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, after the House voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18. She said she wanted to learn more about how the trial would be conducted, including whether witnesses would be called.
The Senate impeachment trial could hobble some of the president's Democratic challengers on the campaign trail before the early voting contest begins. Sanders, Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennett will serve as jurors and will be required to sit for the entirety of the impeachment trial, which will last several hours each day.
Trump has been shadowing Democratic candidates throughout their presidential contest - a practice that will continue as caucuses and primaries begin.
The Trump campaign has scheduled a Jan. 30 rally in Des Moines, Iowa, four days before the caucuses open the Democratic delegate selection process.
Administration officials said they are discussing the possibility of a New Hampshire visit before the Feb. 11 primary in the Granite State.
Trump clinched Wisconsin by less than a percentage point in 2016. But the state has since elected a Democratic governor and moderate suburban Republicans, a large voting bloc in Wisconsin, could serve as swing voters in 2020.
Democrats will descend on Milwaukee in July to officially nominate their candidate to challenge Trump at the Democratic National Convention.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump holds Wisconsin campaign rally as Democrats debate in Iowa