President Donald Trump blasted Sen. John McCain on Friday, calling the Arizona Republican’s choice to oppose the latest GOP effort to repeal Obamacare “honestly terrible” at a rally in Alabama.
Trump said at one point during the health care reform effort — Republicans have tried several different times — he’d been given a list of 10 Republicans to lobby for support.
“John McCain was not on the list, so that was an unexpected thing. Terrible. Honestly terrible,” Trump said in Huntsville at an event for Sen. Luther Strange, who faces former judge Roy Moore in a Republican primary Tuesday.
Trump added that McCain’s “last campaign was all about repeal and replace, repeal and replace.”
“We’re going to do it eventually,” Trump vowed, referring to his pledge to repeal former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Trump added that he still believes Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who like McCain has said he will vote against the bill, could change his mind.
“I haven’t given up on him, because I think he may come around, OK? Wouldn’t it be ironic if he took John McCain’s place — and they definitely do not like each other. Wouldn’t that be ironic?” Trump said. “That would be very ironic, for those of you that know the inner workings of the Senate.”
And he railed against the Senate’s “crazy” 60-vote threshold to pass legislation, complaining that — with Republicans controlling only 52 seats — it’s impossible to pass bills. He said the GOP can pass bills under special budget reconciliation rules that require just 51 votes, “but that’s a trick. That’s just a trick.”
The stakes in Alabama
Trump was in Huntsville with a specific task: Boost Strange past Moore in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff for the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump told the crowd he was there to repay Strange for his loyalty. The President said that when he called Strange to lobby for his vote on health care, Strange said: “Sir, don’t even waste your time talking anymore. You have a lot of business to do. You have my vote.”
Trump said he told first lady Melania Trump about the call. “I went home and told my wife, that’s the coolest thing that’s happened to me in six months.”
Trump also defended Strange against Moore’s accusations that he is doing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bidding, saying that Strange has only known McConnell for months.
At the rally, Trump told Strange, “I think you’re going to come back and you’re going to kick everyone’s ass and you’re going to be great. You’re going to be great. Because he got saddled with things he should not have gotten saddled with.”
Trump also hedged his endorsement, saying he might be making a “mistake” wading into the Republican primary and adding that he would support Moore in the December general election against Democrat Doug Jones if Moore wins Tuesday.
Trump’s rhetoric didn’t match the bombast he’d displayed in a Phoenix rally in late July, where he blew off steam after a week of being criticized for his response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Unlike Arizona, where Trump criticized the two GOP senators, in Alabama Trump heaped praise on Strange and Sen. Richard Shelby. He also complimented Sessions — the attorney general Trump has publicly and privately criticized in recent months.
“You love Jeff Sessions,” he said. “He’s doing a good job. He is doing a good job. We have him very busy, watching the borders. A lot of things are happening.”
‘Turning over your rifle’
The rally had some of Trump’s hallmarks. He claimed that audience members would be “turning over your rifle” if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election. And when the audience chanted “lock her up,” he responded that they should talk to Sessions about it.
Trump also said he’d like to see NFL owners respond to players kneeling during the National Anthem by saying: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
“For a week, (that owner would) be the most popular person in this country,” Trump said, “because that’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect for everything we stand for.
And he complained about NFL efforts to enforce penalties designed to prevent concussions. “They’re ruining the game, right?” he said. “They’re ruining the game.”
Trump called the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election “one of the great hoaxes,” and said it is an “excuse” for Democrats after they lost the contest.
“Honestly, it’s the thing they did best,” Trump said of Democrats. “They did a rotten job of running, but they convinced people of this hoax. That was probably the thing that they did best, but it was one great hoax.”
He added: “No, Russia did not help me, that I can tell you, OK?”
Trump also bragged about his victory, touting his focus on electoral votes rather than the popular vote, and said he hopes Clinton runs again in 2020.
“If Hillary runs again in four years, which I hope she does, we’re going to teach her to spend more time in Michigan. We’re going to teach her to go to Wisconsin,” Trump said.
‘Little Rocket Man’
The trip south comes after Trump spent a stiff week in New York City meeting world leaders at the United Nations, which he called “very productive” at Friday’s rally.
Trump took aim again at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s nuclear aspirations, calling him “Little Rocket Man” and promising that “we’re going to handle it, folks” at a rally in Alabama.
“We can’t have mad men out there shooting rockets all over the place. And by the way, Rocket Man should have been handled a long time ago,” Trump said, adding that former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should have dealt with North Korea during Obama’s tenure. “He should have been handled eight years ago, and four years ago, and honestly — and 15 years ago, and 20 years ago, and 25 years ago. This shouldn’t be handled now, but I’m going to handle it because we have to handle it.”
Strange said in the debate that the two spent 30 minutes on the phone Wednesday night. And Trump tweeted Friday morning: “Will be in Alabama tonight. Luther Strange has gained mightily since my endorsement, but will be very close. He loves Alabama, and so do I!”
The race is also the first time Trump is directly confronting his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who is aggressively supporting Moore while framing the primary as a chance to reject Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Bannon has been rallying anti-establishment conservative donors and influencers and using the conservative news site Breitbart.com to attack Strange.
But Strange used Bannon’s support to poke at Moore on Thursday night.
“Many of the people who are supporting you look like the unemployment line at the White House,” he said. “They were fired.”
Trump touted his administration’s executive accomplishments, including withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and advancing the Keystone XL pipeline. He pointed to efforts to reform the Veterans Affairs department and increase defense spending.
Of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Trump said: “Did you see what I did to that? Boom, gone.”
He pitched his next major legislative agenda item, tax reform, saying that it will be “the biggest tax cut” and that he’d rescind his endorsement if Strange didn’t support it.