BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Trump is pressing forward with plans for a large-scale political rally in Phoenix next week, despite pleadings from the city’s mayor and other elected officials not to hold a polarizing event while feelings remain so raw over the hate-fueled violence in Charlottesville.
“I absolutely think it’s inappropriate to be holding a political rally a few days after an innocent woman was mowed down by a neo-Nazi,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), whose district includes downtown Phoenix. “It’s throwing tinder onto an ongoing fire.”
His words echoed those of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D), who earlier this week made an extraordinary request for Trump to stay away out of fear that the president’s appearance would “enflame emotions” and draw violent agitators from outside the state’s borders.
Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the mayor, said Friday that Trump had not responded to his request and that the city’s police force was girding for what could be a long night in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday.
Trump’s trip to Arizona is planned two days after he ends a tumultuous working vacation here at his private golf club that has included threats of military action against North Korea, continuing fallout from his Charlottesville comments and the ouster of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
A spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign, which is staging the latest in a series of rallies in states where Trump prevailed last year, did not respond to a request for comment about the timing of the rally. The campaign continued to advertise the event on its website Friday, and it sent fresh information to media interested in covering the rally.
Meanwhile, Torunn Sinclair, the communications director for the Arizona Republican Party, called Stanton “a do-nothing mayor” and said he was “trying to exploit the president’s visit for 15 minutes of fame” while positioning himself to run for statewide office. Voters, she said, will “see this political posturing for the cheap stunt it is.”
Arizona was the scene for several raucous Trump rallies during last year’s campaign, including at the convention center where the president is scheduled to appear. Another rally in a Phoenix suburb was briefly delayed after dozens of protesters blocked a highway leading to the rally site, carrying signs that included “Stand Against Racism” and “Combat White Supremacy.”
Stanton and others have voiced heightened concern about Tuesday’s event because of speculation, fueled by Trump, that he could use the appearance to announce a pardon for former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio (R).
Arpaio, who was vocal Trump supporter during the campaign, was convicted last month of criminal contempt for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Arpaio has been reviled for years by many in the jurisdiction’s burgeoning Latino community.
In an interview with Fox News earlier this week, Trump said he was “seriously thinking” about pardoning Arpaio, who he called a “great American patriot” and said had “done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration.” Trump indicated he could be making an announcement soon.
The White House has since been mum about Trump’s intentions. In an interview with NPR on Thursday, Arpaio said he would be honored if Trump follows through but said he hadn’t yet been invited to the rally.
“It makes me feel good that at least someone is backing me up,” Arpaio said in the interview. “And how much better can you get than president of the United States?”
He also downplayed safety concerns surrounding Trump’s planned rally.
State Sen. Catherine H. Miranda (D) said a pardon of Arpaio would be devastating for a Latino community that felt “terrorized” by the sheriff for many years.
She urged peaceful protest but fears mayhem on Phoenix’s streets, particularly if Arpaio is pardoned during the visit.
“It just keeps the hatred and racism alive,” Miranda said. “If he does that, it’s not going to be a good day here. What I fear is more chaos.”
She offered this advice to Trump: “We highly recommend the president visit Charlottesville and heal that city.”
The Phoenix police department has sought to reassure residents that it will be prepared for what could be a volatile mix of Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters convening downtown on Tuesday. Earlier in the week, the city’s police chief issued a message to the community relaying that it will have “maximum staffing” during Trump’s appearance and that it has a preexisting relationship with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“We’re not immune from having a critical incident, but at the same time, we’re prepared,” said Sgt. Jonathan Howard, a police spokesman.
He cited the city’s experience with past large-scale events, including major music festivals, the Super Bowl and this year’s Final Four college basketball tournament.
“I don’t know what will go on,” Howard said. “We’ll certainly be prepared to see this through to the end.”
He also said citizens coming downtown can expect blocked streets and long security lines for the rally.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said it’s not unprecedented for state and local officials to steer presidents from visiting their states because of safety concerns. But that advice is typically given in private, he said.
“What’s unusual about Phoenix is you have an elected official publicly begging the president not to come to his town,” Brinkley said. “Usually a president coming to your town is an economic boon, and it’s something all elected officials welcome.”
Trump’s visit comes at a low point in his presidency. He is under fire from Democrats and Republicans alike for his comments about Charlottesville, particularly his assertion that “both sides” were to blame and that there were some “fine people” who marched alongside the white supremacists who organized last weekend’s events.
Trump is also facing staff turmoil — as evidenced by Bannon’s ouster on Friday — and a stalled legislative agenda.
Arizona’s two Republican senators have been among Trump’s most vocal GOP critics.
Sen. John McCain provided the crucial “no” vote that doomed Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And even before Trump’s comments on Charlottesville, Sen. Jeff Flake was critical of the direction Trump is taking the Republican Party.
Earlier this week, Trump took to Twitter to say it was “great to see” that Flake has drawn a Republican primary opponent and to criticize the incumbent senator for being “WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate.”
Gallego said that he fears the president’s visit is designed to shore up support among his base voters and speculated that pardoning Arpaio could help that task.
“All he cares about is what’s good for him,” Gallego said of Trump, “and it doesn’t matter if people get hurt as a result.”