U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to bounce back from one of the worst weeks of his presidency by taking the stage before a friendly audience and focusing on a familiar topic: immigration.
But his visit to Arizona on Tuesday also will highlight the hurdles in front of the president that leave some of the goals he set when running for office still just out of reach.
Among them are the deep divisions in the country. Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration energizes both his core supporters and his most ardent critics. Officials in Phoenix are bracing for large-scale demonstrations as Trump opponents and supporters converge on the city’s downtown for the president’s appearance Tuesday night.
Trump’s opponents are further motivated by anger over the president’s response to the August 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. After a man plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing a woman, Trump was widely criticized for his remarks that blamed both sides for violence.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat who had urged Trump to cancel his rally after the Charlottesville incident, made an appeal Monday for civil and peaceful demonstrations.
Arizona also illustrates Trump’s fraught relationship with his own party. While Trump won Arizona in November, he’s been openly feuding with the state’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of whom are frequent Trump critics.
Trump last week called Flake, who’s up for re-election in 2018, “a non-factor in the Senate” and “toxic” in a tweet that also welcomed a primary challenge to him from former State Senator Kelli Ward. That prompted several senior Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to come out with statements of support for Flake.
Neither Flake nor McCain is planning to attend Trump’s rally.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican also facing re-election in 2018, is attempting a delicate dance around Trump’s visit. Ducey won’t be accompanying Trump at his Phoenix rally.
“Governor Ducey’s focus has been working with law enforcement toward a safe event in downtown Phoenix for all those involved and in the area. That will continue to be his priority during the event and afterwards,” Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato told The Arizona Republic.
Speculation surrounding the question of whether Trump would take the opportunity, while in the state, to issue a pardon to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was put to rest when White House press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Tuesday there would be “no discussion of that today.”
Arpaio, 85, the county sheriff for more that two decades until being voted out of office in November, was convicted July 31 on one count of federal misdemeanor criminal contempt for defying a 2011 court order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. He faces a maximum of six months at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for Oct. 5.
Trump told Fox News last week that he was “seriously considering” pardoning Arpaio.
Before arriving in Phoenix, Trump toured a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Yuma, a few miles from the state’s border with Mexico.
The visit will give Trump a chance to renew calls for Congress to fund a wall or fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. The border fence near Yuma has reduced illegal entry significantly over the past decade, according to administration officials.
Trump made bolstering border security and pursuit of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. a centerpiece of his campaign for president. But after promising to build an impenetrable barrier along the 1,989-mile border, Trump has scaled back his plans. Mexico has rejected Trump’s vow to make that country pay for it and Congress has so far balked at at providing much money for the project.