WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — President Trump was ostensibly here to talk about the new tax law, his chief legislative accomplishment so far in office.
But he tossed the script — literally.
“This was going to be my remarks. It would’ve taken about two minutes, but . . . ” Trump paused, then threw the piece of paper into the air. “That would’ve been a little boring, a little boring. Now I’m reading off the first paragraph, I said this is boring. Come on. We have to say, tell it like it is.”
Rather than zeroing in on a focused message about the tax cuts that congressional Republicans believe is the key to retaining their majorities this fall, Trump launched into a rambling diatribe of red-meat rhetoric that had nothing to do with the tax law.
Trump — who has been fixated on a “caravan” of migrants traveling north from Central America — charged that women on the journey are “raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before,” despite no evidence in mainstream news reports backing up that claim. He complained about birthright citizenship, sarcastically noting: “If you have a baby on our land, congratulations. That baby is a United States citizen.”
He returned to criticism of the visa lottery system and family-based immigration, two provisions of U.S. immigration law that have been frequent targets of his ire. Trump also insisted that the military will build some parts of his promised border wall.
And the president repeated his false claim that millions of people voted illegally by voting repeatedly in the same election.
“In many places like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that,” Trump said. “They always like to say, ‘Oh, that is a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people. And it’s very hard because the state guards their records.”
In recent days, Trump has hammered away on a hard-line immigration message as alarming reports have aired on conservative news channels about the caravan, which is an annual symbolic event held around Easter each year to raise awareness about the plight of migrants. Angry after being stymied on funding for the border wall, Trump has been exploring alternate avenues for cracking down on illegal immigration.
He signed a proclamation Wednesday directing the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon to coordinate with border-state governors to dispatch National Guard troops to the border. Trump told reporters on Air Force One on Thursday that the administration expects between 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard personnel to be sent to the border as part of the plan.
The president was in town to promote the new tax law, the first major rewrite of the tax code in a generation. The $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent and lowered rates for individuals while repealing the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that everyone carry health insurance.
No Democrats in Congress voted for the tax bill, which particularly benefits the wealthy and corporations. West Virginia’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin III, issued a statement after the roundtable that criticized the substance of the tax law and other policies but was careful not to direct those attacks at Trump, who remains largely popular in the state.
Trump, by contrast, didn’t hesitate in going on the attack against Manchin during the event.
“Joe, he voted against. No, it was bad,” Trump said.
His complaints about Manchin weren’t over.
“And he does other things that I don’t like, to be honest with you,” Trump said. “We’re going to get a chance to have a senator that’s going to help our program.”
The roundtable, during which a number of West Virginians touted the impact of the new tax law, was also a tryout of sorts before the reality-show president: Trump was flanked by two GOP Senate candidates vying for the party’s nomination to run against Manchin in the May 8 primary.
Both Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have sought to ally themselves with Trump, as has the third major GOP candidate, former coal executive Don Blankenship.
Jenkins, who was seated on the president’s left, and Morrisey, who sat on the president’s right, made took turns effusively praising Trump’s leadership.
Jenkins thanked the president as someone “keeping his promises,” particularly on ending the “war on coal.”
Morrisey said he sued the Obama administration seemingly every day over its policies. But turning to Trump, Morrisey said: “Your policies really have made an incredible difference on our state.”
As he wrapped up the event, Trump turned to the Senate candidates, wishing them luck. Then the president had a thought.
“Should we do a little test? Who’s voting for Patrick?” Trump asked. A few people stood, raising their hands.
Trump then asked, “Who’s voting for Evan?” There was a much louder ovation.
Chuckling, Morrisey noted the event was in Jenkins’s congressional district.
Trump, who has declined so far to publicly endorse a candidate in that primary, still wouldn’t take sides Thursday.
“Oh, it was fairly close,” Trump said of his informal poll. “It was fairly close.”
Kim reported from Washington.