President Donald Trump was treated like a rock star when he took the stage at Freedom Hall Monday night and he rewarded the crowd with a play list of their favorite hits about immigration, health care and coal.
But there was at least one tune Trump avoided: the news that the FBI is investigating whether associates of his campaign coordinated with Russians during the election.
Earlier in the day, FBI Director James Comey confirmed to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee that there is an ongoing investigation of whether Trump’s campaign had any ties to Russian attempts to influence the election. Comey delivered a second blow to Trump when he said the FBI had no evidence to support the president’s claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump.
Trump made no mention of Comey’s remarks, instead sticking to the familiar themes that the crowd of more than 18,000 — dotted with red “Make America Great Again” hats — came to hear.
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Trump pledged to rework trade deals, bolster the military, build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and put coal miners back to work. Trump also pledged that the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act would pass the House of Representatives on Thursday, only hours after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul told a group of Louisville businessmen that it would fail.
“It’s a financial disaster waiting to happen right here in your own state,” Trump said, bashing the signature health care legislation of his predecessor. “Thursday is our chance to eliminate Obamacare and the Obamacare disaster in our country.”
Trump, who was introduced by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pointed out Republican U.S. Reps. Andy Barr and Jamie Comer in the audience, all of whom have said they support the GOP’s health plan.
Trump offered few details about the bill or changes he’d like to see, instead taking the stance that it will look different after it gets through both the House and the Senate.
“The end result is going to be wonderful, and it’s going to work great,” Trump said.
The audience enthusiastically applauded Trump’s message on health care, but some of the biggest applause of the night came when Trump talked about returning coal jobs to Kentucky.
“We are going to put our coal miners back to work,” Trump said, repeating a campaign pledge popular in Appalachia.
Trump proudly declared that he eliminated an environmental regulation that he said was hurting the coal industry. Experts, though, have said eliminating regulations will not be enough to restore most coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky.
And at least one agency that serves to help revitalize the areas devastated by the loss of coal jobs faces cuts in Trump’s budget proposal — a proposal that received large applause Monday night.
“Our proposed budget … calls for one of the greatest increases in defense spending in history,” Trump said.
Kentucky’s congressional delegation received the budget with varying levels of skepticism, but almost all of them have pledged to oppose Trump’s plan to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Trump also repeated his pledge to curb illegal immigration, which was welcomed by chants of “build the wall” from the crowd.
“We will build, that’s right, a great, great border wall,” Trump said. “And we will stop the drugs that are pouring into our country and poisoning our youth.”
Kentucky has the 12th lowest illegal immigrant population in the country, at 1.1 percent, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center.
Trump touched on his executive order to ban immigrants from six majority Muslim countries in the Middle East, saying it was necessary to “keep the foreign terrorists out.”
“I’ve had a little problem with the courts not wanting to give us the decisions we should be given, but we’ll win it,” Trump said.
Trump’s immigration ban has been held up in the courts as multiple federal judges ruled that it unfairly targets Muslims.
Trump made a point to localize many aspects of his speech, praising Henry Clay, mentioning various Kentucky leaders, and even taking a swipe at the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball team, which lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
He revisited the theme later when he pledged to renegotiate trade deals, a common trope of his campaign.
“You just worry about your basketball team,” Trump said. “I’ll take care of the rest.”