WEST PALM BEACH — President Donald Trump kicked off his winter vacation in South Florida Saturday with an hourlong speech as erratic as the previous 72 hours in Washington, during which he signed a new North American trade agreement, avoided a government shutdown and became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached.
Appearing before hundreds of students attending a Turning Point USA conservative youth conference in West Palm Beach, Trump spent surprisingly little time talking about his impeachment Wednesday in the U.S. House on charges that he abused his power by trying to strong-arm the president of Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden.
Instead, he touted new, record spending on defense and praised a new trade pact with Mexico and Canada that fulfills one of his campaign promises. And, following a tangent about windmills, he fired up a crowd of hundreds of high school and college students by telling them they are holding at bay a liberal movement that is veering past socialism and into communism — a word he wouldn’t quite say.
“Generations of patriots before us didn’t work, fight and sacrifice so we can surrender our country to a raging left-wing mob,” Trump told the audience.
Perhaps with 2020 in mind, Trump, for the most part, remained on-script.
He focused on the the country’s low unemployment numbers, the soaring stock market and the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement that he signed into law Friday while flying aboard Air Force One from Washington to Palm Beach International Airport. Trump also trumpeted the bipartisan budget deal passed last week that averted another government shutdown.
“We’re saving the republic. But there’s still much to be done,” he said. “We have to win this election.”
Trump, a newly minted Florida resident who is spending the next two weeks at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, spoke during a conference featuring former White House aides, Republican congressmen and far-right pundits. He was introduced Saturday by conservative media giant Rush Limbaugh, who 20 seconds into his comments declared that “climate change is a hoax.”
“Please don’t believe it,” said Limbaugh, a Palm Beach neighbor of Trump’s, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
During his own speech, Trump touted his administration’s efforts to make the U.S. energy independent, a plan that relies on efforts to expand oil and gas drilling in domestic waters. He also mocked a proposed sweeping environmental resolution introduced by Democrats known as the Green New Deal, and delved into his occasional fascination with windmills, saying they kill bald eagles in California and spew noxious fumes during their manufacturing.
But he said his administration has cleaned up the environment.
“Our numbers environmentally are better than they ever were before,” he said. “I want the cleanest water on the planet. I want the cleanest air anywhere.”
Trump did spend some time on the controversy surrounding his impeachment.
He was veering from windmills to his issues with the “dishonest press” when someone in the audience set him off by yelling “Where’s Hunter?” — a reference to the former vice president’s eldest son.
Trump proceeded to assert that it was Biden, and not himself, who attempted a “quid pro quo” in Ukraine by getting a prosecutor removed back in 2015, a time during which an investigation into an energy company that had hired Hunter Biden to its board actually sat dormant.
He then ripped the FBI — which was criticized by the Department of Justice recently for introducing shoddy evidence into a secret court to obtain warrants related to its Trump-Russian investigation — for “spying” on his campaign. And he continued to claim that the FBI’s two-year investigation into his campaigns links with Russian efforts to tamper with the 2016 election was a Democrat “hoax.”
The Justice report, while severely critical of the FBI, does not allege that the agency spied illegally on Trump’s campaign.
“These people have gone crazy. They perpetrated the Russia hoax, the biggest lie ever told to the American public,” he said, warning that Democrats, under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are now trying to “sabotage” the 2020 election. “They will destroy this country.”
Trump also warned of a dystopian future in which Democrats open borders and quash free speech after regaining control of Washington. At one point, Trump, who has aggressively labeled Democrats as socialists, teased labeling them communists.
“I won’t say it,” he said. “I’ll retweet it.”
But Trump tried to end his speech on a conciliatory note. After bringing two students on stage to talk about their experiences with agitated leftist protesters, he said he hopes he can bring the country together after winning a second term.
And, while he now faces an uncertain future, with Pelosi slow-walking the process of transferring the impeachment proceedings from the House to the Republican-controlled Senate, the last few days before Congress went on recess Friday for the holidays weren’t filled entirely with controversy or bad news for Trump.
He saw support for removing him in the Senate drop in recent polls and his approval rating rise. And Saturday’s speech, given before a crowd Trump declared the future leaders of the country, was reserved as much for touting what he’d done than what he’s fighting against.
“You’re the elite,” he said. “The radical left doesn’t stand a chance against young conservatives who are putting America first.”