CLEVELAND — President Trump used a roundtable on taxes here Saturday to campaign for a Republican Senate candidate and to assail undocumented immigrants for taking advantage of U.S. laws he derided as weak.
Though billed as an official White House event, and therefore funded with taxpayer money, Trump was overtly political in his remarks ahead of Tuesday’s primary election. He celebrated his own poll numbers, repeatedly attacked Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and urged Ohioans to elect Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio), who is running against Brown.
“We need your vote, we need your help, so go out and help Jim,” Trump said, with Renacci seated by his side. “Get it done.”
Veering off the planned topic of taxes, Trump had especially harsh words for immigrants who entered the United States illegally. He accused them of taking advantage of “catch and release” policies, accused many of not showing up for their immigration court dates and suggested they did not deserve a trial.
“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” Trump said. “You catch them and then you release them. This is a Democrat rule, Sherrod Brown.”
He went on to describe the policies as “ridiculous,” saying: “We have thousands of [immigration] judges. You think other countries have judges that give them trials?”
“These are the laws we’re suffering with,” the president added.
Trump overstated the number of immigration judges in the United States, according to the National Association of Immigration Judges, which puts the total at about 330 judges.
Trump reiterated his campaign promise to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico and said this nation needs secure borders “even if we have to think about closing up the country for a while.”
Trump was critical of elected officials in California who have taken steps to protect undocumented immigrants there. He singled out Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D), who drew Justice Department scrutiny for tipping off the Bay Area immigrant community that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were planning raids.
“That’s called total obstruction of justice,” Trump said.
Trump heard testimonials from several Ohio residents during the small roundtable on how the tax law he signed in December has provided relief for their businesses and their families.
Sherry Sheely, who runs a furniture and appliance store in North Lima, told Trump, “Thank you for making furniture great again and thank you for making America great again.”
The event was closed to the public, but a few dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Cleveland Public Auditorium and Conference Center to protest Trump’s visit. Sherrie Scarton of Berea, Ohio, was among the protesters. She said she left the GOP because of Trump’s campaign.
“I am an evangelical Christian, and everything he does, all his laws and policies, are against what Jesus Christ would do,” she said.
Inside the conference center, Trump insisted that his presidency is “going much better than people even understand.”
“The poll numbers are pretty good,” Trump added. “They actually say that I’m popular. Can you believe it? Of course, the fake news. Fake news! . . . I get nothing but bad publicity.”
Trump tried to drum up support for Renacci in part by tearing down Brown. He said the Democratic senator “does not think the way we think” on immigration, health care and other issues. And he warned Ohioans not to think of Brown as an independent voice, but rather as part of “a block” of Democrats in Washington.
Brown spokesman Preston Maddock said in a statement responding to Trump: “Sherrod is fighting for Ohioans every day — including working with this administration and his Republican colleagues in the Senate when it’s best for Ohio workers.”
Also during his visit Saturday to Cleveland, Trump attended a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee. The event, held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel downtown, drew about 250 donors and raised roughly $3 million for the committee, a spokesman said.
Reporters traveling with Trump requested access to hear the president’s remarks to donors at the fundraiser , but were denied by White House officials.
Rucker reported from Washington.