HARRISBURG, Pa. -- President Donald Trump took swipes at Democrats and offered a robust defense of his record Saturday night, proclaiming at a campaign-style rally that he has delivered "100 days of action" that are helping revive the fortunes of the American middle class.
In a tense event marked by clashes between Trump supporters and detractors, the president said he has made good on an assortment of promises made during last year's presidential campaign.
Continue Reading Below
Mr. Trump said he is curbing illegal immigration, negotiating more favorable trade deals, and in perhaps the most crowd-pleasing line of the night, pursuing construction of a wall on the border with Mexico.
"We will build the wall as sure as you standing there tonight," Mr. Trump said Saturday, his 100th day in office.
Though Mr. Trump dwelled on what he sees as successes, he has also faced high-profile setbacks over the 100 days, including the collapse of a health-care overhaul and court rulings that have blocked his executive orders on immigration.
At the rally, Mr. Trump boasted of his moves to roll back Obama-era regulations on fossil fuels and his threats to consider imposing new import limits in hard-hit manufacturing sectors.
Eager to show he is delivering for a state that he won by less than 1% of the vote, Mr. Trump said that "importantly for Pennsylvania, we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal, and we are putting our great coal miners' back to work. We love our coal miners."
Invoking the economic nationalist rhetoric that has set many of his business supporters -- and some of his own aides -- on edge, Mr. Trump proclaimed: "We are not going to let other countries take advantage of us any more. From now on, it's going to be America first!"
As Mr. Trump spoke, police repeatedly escorted protesters out of the arena. In some cases, the demonstrators and Trump supporters exchanged angry words, and in at least one instance, multiple police officers converged to restrain a protester before he was led away.
Mr. Trump had harsh words for political opponents. He took aim at Barack Obama, saying his predecessor let gang violence expand in the U.S. And he mocked Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York as "a bad leader -- not a natural leader at all."
The rally created a distinctive split-screen moment.
Rather than attend the annual black-tie White House Correspondents Association dinner back in Washington, Mr. Trump opted for a come-as-you are campaign rally at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in a state that was crucial to his upset election victory. About 10,000 people packed the arena, many wearing red "Make America Great Again" hats.
Mr. Trump told the crowd: "I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington's swamp, spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people."
Back in Washington, the WHCA dinner unfolded without the president in his customary spot on the dais. The last president to miss the dinner was Ronald Reagan, who phoned into the event in 1981 as he was recovering from an assassination attempt.
"A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation's capital right now," Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump said in February that he would skip the dinner, with aides citing the unfair press they believe Mr. Trump has received.
When one of the speakers warming up the crowd in Harrisburg mentioned the WHCA dinner, boos rang through the arena.
Mr. Trump used the rally to mark a 100-day milestone he has come to embrace. Having dismissed the marker as a "ridiculous standard" in a tweet last week, he has been making the case that he had a successful opening act. In a tweet Saturday, he wrote: "Mainstream (FAKE) media refuses to state our long list of achievements, including 28 legislative signings, strong borders & great optimism!"
White House aides say notable achievements include Neil Gorsuch's confirmation as a Supreme Court justice and the rollback of regulations they believe have hampered job growth.
Mr. Trump has also seen high-profile setbacks in his early days in office. As a candidate, he promised to repeal and replace former President Obama's Affordable Care Act. But a bill that would have overhauled the health-care system collapsed in the House last month amid divisions in the Republican caucus.
The courts have blocked Mr. Trump's efforts to tighten immigration from some majority-Muslim countries in a bid to reduce the risks of terrorist attacks. And Mr. Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russian officials.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Mr. Trump conceded the presidency is a tougher job than he had imagined.
"I thought it would be easier," he said.
A major test looms in the next 100 days: Mr. Trump's effort to rewrite the tax code. He released the outline of a plan earlier in the week, saying he wants to deliver historic tax cuts.
Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist based in Sacramento, Calif., said in an interview that if Mr. Trump fails to pass his tax plan, Republicans would face difficulties in the 2018 midterm elections.
The fate of Mr. Trump's tax plan will show whether Mr. Trump can forge "a working coalition with Congress," Mr. Stutzman said.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump seemed eager to explain why he didn't take certain actions he had promised on the campaign trail. He had vowed on his first day in office to label China a currency manipulator -- an accusation leveled at companies that keep their currency artificially low to boost cheap exports -- but instead has decided not to do so.
Mr. Trump said he wants Beijing to cooperate with the U.S. in curtailing North Korea's nuclear ambitions. For the U.S. to ask Chinese leaders to help and then call them currency manipulators "doesn't work," Mr. Trump said.
"So let's see what happens," Mr. Trump said. "I think it's not exactly the right time to call China a currency manipulator right now. Can we agree?"
The audience applauded.
And while he has yet to take some of the more drastic actions he pledged during the campaign trail to rewrite American trade policy, he noted that he has launched a series of studies that could ultimately lead to such change.
"We are reviewing every single trade deal and wherever there is cheating, we will take immediate action and there will be penalties," the president said.
Mr. Trump took aim at Democratic lawmakers who have opposed funding for the Mexican border wall. A standoff over such funding nearly caused a government shutdown this week as lawmakers debated a spending resolution. But after White House officials insisted on border funding and Democrats refused, Mr. Trump dropped the demand and said he would push for it later in the year.
"If the Democrats knew what the hell they were doing, they'd approve it so easy," Mr. Trump said. "Because we want to stop crime in our country. Obviously, they don't mind illegals coming in, they don't mind drugs pouring in."
Before the rally, Mr. Trump made a stop at the Ames Companies, a 243-year-old manufacturer that makes wheelbarrows and landscaping and gardening tools. His entourage included two of the main architects of his economic nationalist message, White House strategist Steve Bannon and trade adviser Peter Navarro.
During a tour of the company, Ames CEO Ron Kramer blamed inexpensive imports from Mexican and Chinese competitors for undercutting his products and told Mr. Trump: "We'll do just fine if there is a level playing field."
Mr. Trump sat at one of the company's desks with a row of shovels behind him and signed two executive orders -- one ordering a review of all American trade agreements, and the other creating a White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing, to be headed by Mr. Navarro.
The move seemed designed to show that Mr. Navarro retains influence with Mr. Trump, despite speculation that he had lost out in White House power struggles to Mr. Trump's more global-minded aides, such as National Economic Council head Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Write to Peter Nicholas at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 29, 2017 22:19 ET (02:19 GMT)