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Trump doubles down against ‘Russia story’ in Huntington rally

By JAKE ZUCKERMAN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — If reports of the assembling of a grand jury in relation to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election rattled President Donald Trump, he didn’t let it show Thursday before a raucous crowd at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Supporters shout and wave during President Donald Trump’s political rally inside the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington on Thursday.
(Photo by Craig Hudson)
Although news broke of the grand jury mere hours before the rally, Trump doubled down on his narrative that the allegations are just much ado about nothing.

“There were no Russians in our campaign, there never were,” he said. “We didn’t win because of Russia, we won because of you.”

He attributed the investigation and the accompanying news coverage to Democratic Party attacks and scapegoating following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump.

“The only reason Democrats talk about the totally made-up Russia story is because they have no message, no agenda and no vision,” the president said. “The Russia story is total fabrication. It is just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about.”

Trump also took the opportunity to validate predictions reported earlier in the day by The New York Times of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice stepping away from the Democratic Party.

Trump yielded the presidential podium to let Justice make the announcement.

“I can’t help you any more being a Democrat governor, so tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican,” Justice said in a brief interlude from Trump’s speech. “As a coach, I will tell you it’s time to run another play.”

President Donald Trump holds up a sign handed to him by a supporter during Thursday’s rally.
(Photo by Craig Hudson)

After retaking the spotlight, Trump talked about promises he’d made on the campaign trail, such as revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, resuscitating the coal industry and building a border wall to stop illegal immigration into the United States.

“We will make America strong again, we will make America wealthy again, we will make America proud again, we will make America safe again, and we will make America great again,” he said.

Although Trump emanated more rhetorical discipline than he did in his last visit to West Virginia, at the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree, the crowd offered aggressive support of his high-spirited nationalism.

When Justice spoke, he had to pause while the crowd roared about a fight that had broken out in the rear of the grandstand.

Similarly, after bringing up Clinton and recycling 2016 campaign attacks, Trump had to pause until chants to “Lock her up! Lock her up!” subsided.

Citing reports of recent stock market growth, an uptick in coal exports and low employment numbers, Trump boasted about how he has kept all his promises.

“I made you a promise during the campaign, you all remember, many of you were here,” he said. “As you’ve seen, I’ve kept that promise. As president, we are putting our coal miners back to work. We’ve ended the war on beautiful clean coal, we’ve stopped the [Environmental Protection Agency] intrusion.”

Despite rapid-fire staff firings and a lack of major legislative victories over his first six months in office, Trump laid out more policy plans.

A protester is forcibly removed during President Donald Trump’s rally Thursday night in Huntington.
(Photo by Craig Hudson)

For one, he mentioned a recently introduced bill to overhaul legal immigration and convert it to a merit-based system regarding job readiness, proficiency with the English language and other factors, instead of familial ties.

He also said Congress should take on tax reform, finding ways to bring down the corporate income tax to foster a more business-friendly climate, while simultaneously reducing tax burdens on the middle class.

Additionally, despite the recent failure of Republican efforts in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump said legislators need to keep at it.

“That is why I will repeat again tonight that Congress must do its job, keep its promise, live up to its word and repeal and replace Obamacare; you have to do it,” Trump said. “Congress must not give in, they must not give up. Instead, Congress must get to work and deliver Americans the great health care they deserve, the great repeal-and-replace they’ve been talking about for seven years.”

Laying policy and other issues aside, Trump seized the opportunity to re-energize the heart of his electoral base, the “forgotten Americans” from rural cities where manufacturing came and went.

“There are powerful forces in Washington that want to stop us, but we won’t let them,” he said. “We don’t need advice from the Washington swamp. We need to drain the swamp.”

The crowd answered with a chorus of: “Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!”

Along with the president’s speech Thursday, the entire Republican field for West Virginia’s 2018 Senate race hoped to ride the Trump wave to the party’s nomination. Across the street from the arena, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., staged a micro-campaign event hours before the rally, while Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and laid-off coal miner Bo Copley shook hands among the sea of “MAGA”-hatted Trump supporters.

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