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President Donald Trump won’t pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio during his visit to Arizona, the White House said Tuesday as supporters and protesters gathered near the site of Trump’s latest campaign rally.
Outside the Phoenix Convention Center, shouting matches and minor scuffles erupted between the two sides. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton had asked the president to delay his political event to allow for more time of national healing.
It’s the first Trump campaign rally since a Charlottesville, Va., protest organized by white supremacists led to three deaths.
Eager to capitalize on his hard-line stance on immigration, President Trump had teased the politically inflammatory possibility of pardoning Arpaio. The former Maricopa County sheriff is awaiting sentencing after his conviction in federal court for disobeying court orders to stop his immigration patrols.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump won’t discuss or take action on a pardon “at any point today,” even though the president has said he’s considering it.
Trump began his Arizona visit with a brief trip to the southern edge of the country.
While touring a Marine Corps base in Yuma that is a hub of operations for the U.S. Border Patrol, the president inspected a drone and other border equipment on display in a hangar.
Trump shook his head as he was shown a series of everyday objects, such as a fire extinguisher, that had been refashioned to secretly transport drugs across the border. Afterward, he spent about 20 minutes greeting service members in the grueling, 106-degree heat, signing caps with his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan and posing for selfies on the tarmac just steps from Air Force One.
While Trump did not talk publicly about getting tough on immigration during his Yuma visit, the topic was sure to come up at the Phoenix rally — his eighth such event since taking office in January. The events are organized by his 2020 re-election campaign, which carefully screens attendees.
In the comfort of his most fervent fans, Trump often resurrects his free-wheeling 2016 campaign style, pinging insults at perceived enemies such as the media and meandering from topic to topic without a clear theme.
Vice President Mike Pence, who will introduce Trump at the rally, said the president will be “completely focused” on his agenda for the country.
“He’s also going to call on the Congress to get ready to come back when they arrive on Sept. 5th and go straight to work to make America safe again, make America prosperous again, and in his words, to make America great again,” Pence said in a Tuesday interview with Fox News.
The vice president traveled to Phoenix separately and bounded up the stairs of Air Force One to greet Trump on the tarmac.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Trump supporter, also welcomed Trump at the airport, but will not attend the rally to focus on safety needs, his spokesman said.
Outside the convention center, police officers formed a line in the middle of a street to separate the protesters and Trump supporters. One man using a loudspeaker said the largely Latino protesters belong in the kitchen. Trump opponents hoisted signs depicting him with devil horns and portraying “45” — he is the 45th president — as a swastika.
Neither of Arizona’s two Republican senators planned to appear with Trump.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a conservative, has been a frequent target of Trump’s wrath.
The president tweeted last week: “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Flake has been on tour promoting his book that says the Republican Party’s embrace of Trump has left conservatism withering.
Ward planned to attend Trump’s rally, sparking talk that the president could take the politically extraordinary step of endorsing her from the stage over an incumbent Republican senator.
In a modest but telling swipe at Ward and, by extension, at Trump, the Senate Leadership Fund, a political committee closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is spending $10,000 on digital ads that say of her, “Not conservative, just crazy ideas.”
Arizona’s other senator, John McCain, is undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer. Trump has been critical of McCain for voting against a Republican health care bill.
Tuesday’s events put the president in more comfortable political territory than in recent days.
Upending a campaign vow to end the country’s longest war, Trump on Monday announced in a national address a plan to maintain a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Senior U.S. officials said Trump’s strategy may involve sending up to 3,900 more troops, with some deployments beginning almost immediately.
Some of Trump’s core voters had already been unhappy about the recent ouster of conservative Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist.
Bannon had made it his mission to remind Trump of what his most fervent supporters want from his presidency. Some conservative strategists have openly worried that without Bannon around, Trump will be too influenced by establishment Republicans on issues such as Afghanistan policy.
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