HARRISBURG, United States, Apr 30 – Donald Trump hailed a “very productive” first 100 days as America’s president, telling a roaring crowd of supporters other “great battles” ahead would be won.
In an hour-long speech Trump lambasted the media and predecessor Barack Obama, boasted of his support for US industry and the military, and vaunted his foreign policy positions including on confronting North Korea, earning cheers from the crowd in Pennsylvania.
The president held the campaign-style rally — in a state that helped tip the election in his favor — while snubbing a traditional White House correspondents’ dinner taking place late Saturday, where he had risked being roasted by comedians.
Declaring himself “thrilled” to be far from “the Washington swamp” and the “very boring” dinner, the president sneered at “fake news” CNN and the “failing” New York Times.
“They are a disgrace,” he said.
The black-tie affair in Washington was headlined by veteran investigative journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who gained fame in the Watergate scandal that prompted the resignation of former President Richard Nixon.
Woodward rebuffed the president’s relentless barbs against news outlets.
“Mr President, the media is not fake news — let’s take that off the table as we proceed,” he said.
“Whatever the climate, whether the media is revered or reviled, we should and must persist and I believe we will.”
– ‘Keeping promises’ –
Some of Trump’s animosity stemmed from US media evaluating his 100-day record as meager and mixed.
They have noted embarrassing setbacks for the Republican on health care and a travel ban, and reversals on China and NATO — while also recognizing campaign pledges he has met, like appointing a conservative Supreme Court judge and pulling the country out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
In his speech Trump presented his record so far — including the signing of many executive orders — as “very exciting and very productive,” despite what he described as the “mess” left by Obama’s administration.
“We are keeping one promise after another,” he asserted, adding that he was preparing for “the great, great battles to come and that we will win in every case.”
Trump also highlighted his tough approach to immigration.
Stepped-up law enforcement was removing “drug dealers, gang members and killers” from the country, he said, while reinforced vetting was keeping America “safe from terrorism.”
“We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” he said to applause and cheers of “USA! USA!”
He did not acknowledge the difficulty he has had in finding the money to start work on the wall he vowed would be built on the Mexican border.
Instead he insisted that “we need the wall to stop the drugs and the human trafficking” and “we’ll have the wall — don’t worry about it.”
– China and North Korea –
On foreign policy, he admitted he had backed down on a vow to label China a currency manipulator, but said “flexibility” was needed because Chinese President Xi Jinping was a “good man” who was trying to help Trump rein in North Korea.
Later Saturday the White House announced that Trump in a “friendly” call invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — who has drawn international condemnation for his deadly drug war — to Washington.
The leaders discussed the “threat” of North Korea, the White House said, as well as “the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.”
At his rally Trump also said the US economy had surged since he took office, reinvigorating America’s construction, manufacturing and energy sectors, as well as its declining coal and steel industries — a key message for the crowd in Pennsylvania, a rust-belt state.
On the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he has vowed to renegotiate, he said “if we can’t make a fair deal for our companies and our workers we will terminate NAFTA.”
Other trade deals allowing nations such as China, Russia and India to contribute to “the theft and plunder of American wealth” were being torn up, Trump said.
He said he would be making a decision on the “one-sided Paris climate accord” in the next two weeks. He described the pact, meant to curb global warming, as an impediment to US economic growth.
– ‘Snake’ poem –
He spoke of his plans to reform US taxes and swore that health care legislation brought in by Obama that gives greater medical access to Americans was “dying” and would be repealed — despite a signal failure by Republicans in Congress to do so in March.
Trump also read a poem called “The Snake,” — from the lyrics of a 1968 song recorded by American soul singer Al Wilson — that reworks a fable about a maiden who saves a half-frozen serpent but who is then killed by its bite, as it stays true to its nature.
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in!” Trump intoned, dedicating the reading to the border patrol service for “keeping America safe.”