President Donald Trump met with thunderous approval on a campaign-style stop in Louisville Monday, offering a familiar blend of promises to restore jobs, cut taxes, rebuild the nation's "crumbling infrastructure," strengthen the military and stop illegal immigration.
“We will build a great border wall,” he declared to cheers at a packed Freedom Hall in describing his plans to block Mexican immigrants. “We will stop radical Islamic terrorism.”
"We are going to drain the swamp of government corruption," he said. "We are going to keep our promises."
But one of the biggest cheers of the night erupted when Trump promised to restore the nation’s struggling coal industry, which has hit Kentucky especially hard with job losses—a pledge most experts believe is unlikely because of an abundance of cheaper natural gas and the costs and pollution of coal
“We are going to put our coal miners back to work,” Trump said.”The miners are coming back.”
And the Republican president pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, his description of the federal health law as "a catastrophe" drawing cheers in a state where it helped achieve one of the nation's sharpest drops among people without health insurance by expanding coverage to more than a half-million Kentuckians.
"This is our long awaited chance to finally get rid of Obamacare," Trump said referring the GOP plan pending in the House. "We're gonna do it."
Several incidents with protesters briefly interrupted the proceedings.
Two people tried to unfurl a banner over a balcony that a Trump supporter wrested away from them. And two protesters wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts were hustled out by police. Trump didn’t acknowledge either incident.
But he noted the presence of several hundred protesters outside Freedom Hall commenting “There are a lot of people outside but we love them, too." The president seemed gratified by the size of the crowd inside the arena.
"This place is packed," he said.
Trump reserved comments about the health law till the end of his 40-minute speech although drumming up support for the faltering GOP health plan was thought to be one of the main reasons for his visit.
He made no references to the plan's growing difficulties in Congress among both liberals and conservatives. Nor did he mention testimony earlier Monday in Washington that discredited his tweets about wiretaps at Trump Tower or about an FBI investigation into suspected ties between his campaign and the Russians.
The crowd, decked out in Trump T-shirts, "Make America Great Again" caps and waving Trump signs, didn't seem to care.
Over and over the crowd roared approval for his familiar campaign lines, joining him in a chant at the end of his speech to "make America great again."
"The United States if America is your country again!" Trump said.
Trump's Monday visit came the same day that FBI Director James Comey discounted Trump's recent claims in a series of tweets that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had tapped his phones at Trump Tower in New York. Comey, testifying before Congress, said he had "no information" to support such claims.
Comey also confirmed that the FBI is investigating links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government as part of a probe into Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and influence the outcome, an ongoing controversy that dogs the Trump administration.
And, as Kentucky emerges as a battleground over efforts to repeal the federal health law, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Bowling Green Republican, undercut Trump's effort to rally support by announcing earlier Monday that he will not vote for the GOP plan should it reach the Senate. The proposal is expected to get a vote in the House this week but faces uncertain prospects amid criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
Paul argues the current legislation doesn't go far enough to repeal Obamacare.
Trump seemed unconcerned.
“I happen to like Rand Paul,” he said. “He’s a good guy. I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed in the House.”
Trump said he is counting on the support of Kentucky's senior U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Republican Congressmen Andy Barr and James Comer—who attended Monday's rally— to help push the law through Congress. Paul did not attend, saying he had to return to Washington.
Though the crowd cheered tirelessly for Trump, McConnell got a mixed reception, drawing boos as well as applause when he was introduced to speak prior to Trump and again when Trump recognized him by name.
McConnell spoke very briefly, offering his frequent criticism of the federal health law.
“Here is Kentucky it’s been a disaster,” he said.
Meanwhile, supporters of the law argue the stakes are huge in Kentucky, where more than 500,000 people have gained health coverage under the law, about 440,000 through Medicaid and another 81,000 through commercial health plans bought through the federal online health exchange, healthcare.gov.
On Monday afternoon, the Louisville Metro Council’s Democratic Caucus urged Trump to rethink a repeal of Obamacare, saying the law has helped the city’s budget by reducing the number of residents who lack health coverage.
Metro Councilwoman Marianne Butler also said Trump’s proposed federal budget is expected to cost the city around $46 million in funding — a figure that doesn’t include the reductions Jefferson County Public Schools may face.
But Metro Council’s Republican caucus issued its own statement Monday welcoming Trump to town and backing his plan to repeal and replace the ACA.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer weighed in too, asking the president to slow down and “keep his promises” on health care.
"President Trump repeatedly promised to pass a health care plan that would provide all Americans with affordable, quality health care coverage at a lower cost. The President’s plan will cause 24 million Americans to lose their health care coverage,” Fischer said in a statement. “The ACA needs to be improved, but the TrumpCare proposal is not the way to do it.“
Monday night's rally was the second time in nine days the Trump administration sought support in Kentucky for the GOP health proposal. Vice President Mike Pence visited Louisville March 11 at a small, invitation-only event to plug the plan and urge support among Kentucky's congressional delegation.
Monday, Gov. Matt Bevin, who spoke prior to Trump's appearance, said Trump will fulfill his pledge to repeal the health law. Bevin has argued the Medicaid expansion is unsustainable and that the market for private health plans in Kentucky is failing -- even though his administration announced recently that about 81,000 people bought private plans this year, about the same as last year.
Bevin also noted that the mother of Pence, a former Indiana governor was in the crowd and thanked her for coming. The crowd did, too, as a man yelled "We love you, Mama Pence!"