Trump Stokes 2020 Battle With Democrats in Longest Speech Yet

Joshua Gallu
Trump Stokes 2020 Battle With Democrats in Longest Speech Yet

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump delivered the longest speech of his presidency on Saturday, a two-hour-plus tour of conservative talking points old and new that included some unscripted and at times vulgar attacks on his political enemies.

Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, Trump told supporters that Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was “bullsh--,” suggested that immigrant members of Congress “hate our country,” took a shot at the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates, and pledged to withhold federal research money from universities that don’t protect conservative speech.

The speech was an early glimpse of Trump’s focus on the 2020 election, showing a president who’s more comfortable in a free-wheeling campaign environment than in the confined settings of state meetings, such as his summit in Hanoi with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that dominated his past week. As he took the stage, Trump literally hugged an American flag.

“You know, I’m totally off script right now,” Trump, just warming up, said toward the beginning of his appearance. “And this is how I got elected, by being off script. And if we don’t go off-script our country’s in big trouble, folks, because we have to get it back.”

Witch Hunt

The speech came amid indications Mueller is nearing the end of his investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 U.S. election, which has dogged Trump throughout his presidency. He repeated his view that the probe is a “witch hunt,” and said: “They try to take you out with bullsh--.”

Earlier this week, Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen accused the president of multitude of misdeeds in a daylong public House committee hearing. Cohen said that Trump paid hush-money to a porn star and regularly overstated his net worth for loans, insurance and tax purposes.

He also addressed a key question in Mueller’s probe: did Trump know about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and other campaign associates with a Russian who said she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

The same month as the meeting, Cohen said, Trump Jr., “leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice,” said “the meeting is all set.”

Cohen acknowledged that he had no direct evidence of Trump colluding with Russia, saying only that “I have my suspicions.”

Mocks Accent

As he attacked Mueller’s probe on Saturday, Trump also renewed criticism of his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who he said was “weak” for having recused himself from overseeing Mueller’s probe because he was a witness. At one point, Trump mocked the former Alabama senator’s southern accent.

Trump revisited past controversies, including the reported size of the crowds at his inauguration more than two years ago, and pivoted to future targets. He sarcastically praised “crazy” Democrats who back the so-called Green New Deal, saying it would “destroy American energy” and hand him a 2020 campaign issue.

“I encourage it,” he said of the call to phase out fossil fuels championed by first-term Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Republicans portray the plan as a symbol of government overreach or creeping socialism. Trump renewed Republican arguments that the policy would curtail air travel, limit the number of cars Americans could drive, and halt electricity “when the wind stops blowing.”

Down on Socialism

Interrupted several times by audience chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” Trump sought to suggest that Democrats are shifting to the radical left. “Socialism is about only one thing,” he said. “It’s called power for the ruling class.”

Trump also renewed criticism of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell as someone who “likes raising interest rates,” adding that the U.S. dollar is too strong. The U.S. economy is doing well in spite of the Fed’s actions, he added.

“I want a strong dollar but I want a dollar that does great for our country, not a dollar that’s so strong that it makes it prohibitive for us to do business with other nations and take their business,” Trump said.

He didn’t mention Powell by name, but referenced a certain “gentleman that likes raising interest rates” at the Fed. “Can you imagine if we left interest rates where they were, if we didn’t do quantitative tightening,” Trump said. “There’s no inflation,” he added.

Abortion and Liberals

Fed officials kept their target range for the federal funds rate on hold, at 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent, when they met in late January. They’ll gather again in Washington March 19-20, when most economists and investors expect they’ll again leave rates unchanged.

Nothing was off limits for Trump on Saturday as he mused about ongoing trade talks with China, his abruptly halted negotiations with North Korea’s Kim on Thursday, abortion, alleged liberal bias at universities, the state of the Democratic party, and immigration.

As Trump railed against undocumented immigrants, he also took sharp aim at members of the U.S. Congress with immigrant backgrounds, whom he didn’t identify.

“We have people in Congress -- right now we have people in Congress that hate our country. Did you know that? And we can name every one of them if they want. They hate our country,” Trump said. “How did they do in their country? Just ask them.”

“Not so good,” he added.

Before moving on, Trump reflected briefly on his own remarks.

“Somebody would say, ‘oh that’s terrible that he brings that up,”’ Trump added. “But that’s OK. I don’t mind. I’ll bring it up.”

--With assistance from Alyza Sebenius and Candice Norwood.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Gallu in Washington at jgallu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny, Tony Czuczka

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