Donald Trump visits Kentucky to reprise his greatest hits of 2016

US President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 20, 2017.
US President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 20, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (NYTIMES) - President Donald Trump delivered a rollicking populist and nationalist appeal on Monday (March 20), promising to renegotiate trade agreements, clamp down on illegal immigration and keep terrorists out of the country - all in the service of putting "America first".

In a speech that drew deeply on the core themes of Trump's 2016 campaign, the president promised to pass the Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But he presented it largely as a necessity to finance tax cuts.

"We have to get this done to do the other," Trump declared.

The president made clear that the current healthcare legislation would have to be changed to make it through Congress. But he appeared unconcerned about the ultimate outcome.

"We're going to negotiate; it's going to go back and forth," Trump said. "In the end, it's going to be great."

For Trump, who is enduring one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency, the rally was a chance to bathe in the adulation of a campaign crowd, a sea of people waving placards that said "Buy American. Hire American" and "Promises Made. Promises Kept".

He appeared in Louisville after leaving Washington, if only for a few hours, at the end of a tumultuous day that showcased the perils and promise of his presidency.

In the House, lawmakers grilled FBI Director James Comey and Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump conspicuously avoided any mention of Russia during his speech.

And in the Senate, Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch introduced himself in what will be several days of confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee.

In Kentucky, the president said he would renegotiate trade deals to bring jobs and factories back to the United States. The nation has lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, he said.

"We sacrificed our own middle class to finance the growth of foreign countries," Trump told the raucous crowd in Freedom Hall. "Ladies and gentlemen, those days are over." "We won't be played for fools, and we won't be played for suckers any more," he said.

This was third speech of Trump's presidency that had an explicitly political theme, drawing on his campaign slogan "Make America Great Again".

It had originally been conceived as a rally with supporters in a state where one of the Republican senators, Rand Paul, has expressed opposition to the Republican healthcare legislation, which Trump is backing.

His visit to a major coal-producing state could also have resonated in the context of Trump's plans to lift emissions restrictions on coal-fired power plants, something he is expected to do with an executive order on climate issues that the administration has yet to release.

But as is often the case with this presidency, the news intruded. After Comey publicly disavowed Trump's claims to have been illegally wiretapped by his predecessor, the president flew into Louisville loaded for bear and eager to address the drama that was still playing out on television screens as Air Force One took off for Kentucky.