Trump largely ignores impeachment as he rallies young Conservatives

US President Donald Trump speaking at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Florida on Dec 21, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump on Saturday (Dec 21) largely ignored his having been branded the third impeached president in history as he rallied young conservative activists with campaign-style attacks on the "far-left ruling class" at the start of a two-week holiday vacation.

Speaking for more than an hour to thousands of high school and college students at the Turning Point USA conference, Mr Trump referred briefly to his impeachment, accusing Democrats of pursuing an "illegal, unconstitutional hyperpartisan impeachment" against him.

But he did not dwell on the historic vote or spend much time attacking congressional Democrats who charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by pressuring a foreign government to assist him in smearing a political rival.

Instead, the President made it clear that he intended to seek re-election with the messages he has been delivering for years: a relentless attack on liberalism, promises of support for gun rights, denunciations of environmentalism, and a vow to secure the south-western border against what he calls "criminal aliens".

During his speech on Saturday, Mr Trump received his loudest applause, and a standing ovation, when he bragged about turning away asylum-seekers and exaggerated the amount of new border wall that his administration has built.

"We always remember the sacred truth," the President said. "Our first duty, and our one true allegiance, is to you, the American citizen."

Mr Trump's speech to the young supporters came just three days after the House impeachment votes, which set the stage for a trial in the Senate to determine whether he will be removed from office.

The timing of that trial remains uncertain. Lawmakers left Washington for the holidays without resolving a dispute over the procedures that will govern the trial and whether the Republican-led chamber will call witnesses Democrats have demanded.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said senators should hear from senior administration officials who refused to testify during the House impeachment investigation. Those include acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, who according to his lawyer, knows about "many relevant meetings and conversations" on Ukraine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this past week that Democrats would not deliver the two approved articles of impeachment to the Senate until they agreed to fair procedures for the trial. As lawmakers left Washington in recent days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the two sides "remain at an impasse".

In his remarks on Saturday, Mr Trump appeared determined to dismiss the impeachment inquiry - which dominated much of the political debate over the last two months - as a failed political attack by his rivals.

"There's no crime. There's no nothing. How do you impeach when you have no crime?" the President asked the crowd, referring briefly to Ms Pelosi as "crazy Nancy" and insisting that she had no case against him. "It's so unfair."

He briefly focused on Mr Hunter Biden, the son of former vice-president Joe Biden, after an audience member yelled out "Where's Hunter?" That prompted the President to spend a few minutes denouncing - without evidence - the elder Biden, his rival for the White House, for the very corruption that the Democrats accused him of during the impeachment inquiry.

But if Ms Pelosi and others believed last Wednesday's vote would incite a long diatribe by the President about impeachment, they were wrong.

He pointed to the country's economic success, noting that the stock market has hit record highs and unemployment among many groups is at long-term lows. He repeatedly took credit for appointing 187 judges, replacing what he said were "crazy partisans" on the federal bench.

The rest of Saturday's speech was a return to his greatest hits: attacking the "fake news" media, warning of the dangers of immigration, complaining about unsubstantiated claims of spying on his presidential campaign, and mocking the use of windmills and the Democratic plan for a "green new deal" to protect the planet.

"They are noisy. They kill the birds," Mr Trump said of windmills. "You want to see a bird graveyard, go under a windmill someday. You will see more dead birds than you've ever seen in your life."

The crowd of young supporters - many decked out in red "Make America Great Again" hats - welcomed the President's messaging. They repeatedly jumped to their feet, at one point chanting, "Four more years."

Mr Trump joked that they should change the chant to drive his liberal adversaries crazy. "From now on, start yelling 16 more years," he said.

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