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Embattled Trump returns to strong suit

By AFP   |   18 February 2017   |   4:06 pm
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With his presidency in turmoil and political adversaries baying for blood, Donald Trump is trading the Washington mud pit for more soothing surroundings: a campaign stage and crowds of thousands chanting his name.

The provocative real estate mogul turned leader of the free world is not jump-starting his 2020 re-election bid -- not yet anyway.

But on Saturday, he returns to the medium that made him a political juggernaut, one he mastered in the 2016 campaign to the humiliation of his Republican and Democratic rivals.

He hits the campaign stump for a rally in Melbourne, a city on Florida's famed Space Coast, at 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) not as candidate Trump but the nation's commander-in-chief seeking to re-connect with his tribe of largely white, male middle-class voters.

Melbourne, the White House said Friday, will be "a campaign rally for America."

The event will provide Trump an opportunity to bond with his base after a tumultuous start to his presidency.

Florida has been good to the New York billionaire, and Trump was clearly relishing the chance to return to the stump here.

"Big crowd expected!" he tweeted.

The populous southeastern state backed Trump in November, helping him seal his shock victory over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

But the decision to hold the event appears to defy convention in Washington, coming as it does just one month into Trump's term, when most new presidents are focused on finding their footing and getting their national security team and cabinet up to speed.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to do things differently.

And with the past week marked by his national security advisor's resignation, a rejection of one of his cabinet nominees, and a startling news conference loaded with vituperation, his team appears to have seen a return to his political bread and butter to be in order.

Tensions have soared in recent days as lawmakers pressed for more information about the Trump campaign's connections with Russia.

Congress is already investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, and the issue appeared to exasperate Trump Thursday at his extraordinary news conference, where he denied his campaign had contact with Moscow.

As reporters pressed him on the sensitive issues, he lashed out, then took his anti-journalist tirade to a new level in a Friday tweet, calling the media "FAKE NEWS" and "the enemy of the American people!"

It marked a new level of abrasiveness for Trump, who has made clear he believes the media are out to sink his presidency.

He is likely to continue such denunciations in friendlier company Saturday, much as he did during last year's campaign, when he called the media "some of the worst people I've ever met."

- 'Nobody does it better' -
The White House made no secret of the Melbourne rally's campaign-trail feel.

"President Trump, just as he did so effectively throughout the campaign, is going to continue taking his message directly to the American people," deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Journalists "don't always do the best job delivering his message, and nobody does it better than he does."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle meanwhile continued to press for thorough, bipartisan investigations into Russia's role in the election.

FBI director James Comey personally briefed senators Friday amid the uproar over Trump's Moscow ties, and while the senators would not discuss the content of the meeting, a tweet by one of them was telling.

"I am now very confident Senate Intel Comm I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence," Senator Marco Rubio said.

On Friday, Trump visited a Boeing plant in South Carolina, pitching himself as a champion of jobs and industry.

"As your president, I'm going to do everything I can to unleash the power of the American spirit and to put our great people back to work," he said.

"This is our mantra, 'buy American and hire American.' We want products made in America, made by American hands," he said, pledging to wean the country off imports.


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