DALLAS – President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both addressed the National Rifle Association Annual Meetings and Exhibits today, the first time a president and vice president have appeared jointly.
“We love Texas!” Trump said after chants of USA! USA! died down. Trump ticked off a long list of local politicians to thank and endorse including Gov. Greg Abbott and his one-time opponent, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, both up for reelection.
“Boy, that was very rousing,” Trump said after sustained applause for Cruz.
USA! USA! cranked up again after Trump’s comments about patriotism.
“We have pride in our history and respect for our heritage,” he said. “We put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of Allegiance and we all proudly stand for the National Anthem.”
There was no mention of recent controversies making headlines. Rudy Giuliani made a stunning statement on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show that Trump has repaid personal attorney Michael Cohen for an October 2016 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels as part of a nondisclosure agreement. Neither the Giuliani interview nor the one Daniels gave to 60 Minutes saying she’d had a one-time sexual relationship with Trump and was threatened to keep quiet about it surfaced today.
Instead, Trump was peak Trump in delivering an address that at times felt like a campaign stump speech, other times like a recitation of his Twitter feed. In the span of just a few minutes he blasted “fake news CNN,” “distorted” NBC and the Robert Mueller investigation before hailing recently passed tax cuts and Kanye West, who said during a TMZ interview the other day, “I just love Trump. That’s my boy.”
“Kanye West must have some power. I doubled my African-American poll numbers. We went from 11 to 22 in one week,” he said. “Thank you, Kanye, thank you.”
Trump then pivoted to “We’re really doing well with North Korea” before making fun of former Secretary of State and U.S. Sen. John Kerry for breaking his leg. (“At 73 years old, you never go into a bicycle race;” Kerry was actually 71 when he broke his leg in 2015) and then railed against illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.
“We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world,” he said. “After years of defending the borders of other countries .. we don’t defend our own borders. We have laws that were written by people that truly could not love our country. Illegal immigration must end. We are not going to let our country be overwhelmed.”
As he did last year’s convention, which was held in Atlanta, Trump stressed his support of the right to bear arms.
“If we’re going to outlaw guns, like so many people want to do – Democrats – then we are going to have to outlaw immediately all vans and all trucks, which are now the new form of death for the maniac terrorists.”
Pence spoke ahead of Trump.
“President Trump and I came here today mostly to say thanks,” Pence said. “Thanks for electing a president and a Congress that are making America great again. It’s been 15 months of promises made and promises kept and we’re just getting started.”
He also touted the Trump administration’s stance on immigration, border security and sanctuary cities. “When it comes to that big border wall, we’re going to build it all.”
Pence drew loud and sustained applause and brought the the crowd to its feet with comments disparaging the media.
“Firearms in the hands of law abiding citizens make our communities more safe, not less safe,” he said. “Today I want to call on the national media: start telling the whole story.”
The crowd also heard from Stephen Willeford, hailed as the hero who stopped the shooter in a Baptist Church Sutherland Springs, Tex.
“He had an AR-15, but so did I,” Willeford said.
After an invocation led by Col. Oliver North, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, started with words of support for families mourning the victims of the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Gun control, he said, is not the answer to combatting such crimes.
“Let’s start by taking the no guns allowed stickers off the windows of our schools,” he said. “That’s not a school security plan. It’s an invitation to tragedy.”
Echoing the reel of ads that preceded the speeches, Cox criticized the media, violent movies and other societal ills he says leads to violence.
“The NRA is the only organization in America that gets blamed for problems our members don’t commit,” he said. “The NRA members are the best of the best. We don’t just believe in individual freedom and responsibility we live it every single day.”