HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Appearing at a campaign rally for Republican Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama, President Trump gave the incumbent a ringing endorsement while remaining largely quiet on Sen. John McCain, who said Friday he would not support a last-minute effort to repeal Obamacare.
Cheered on by the thousands inside the packed Von Braun Center in Houston, Trump briefly criticized McCain, R-Ariz.
The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., would give states broader authority to determine coverage parameters and would end the requirement that individuals have to buy insurance.
Trump, however, made no mention of McCain’s latest remarks, instead focusing on the Arizona senator’s vote against an earlier health care bill.
Beyond his remarks about McCain, the president extolled Strange, who is just days away from facing former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a runoff for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat.
"Luther is a tough, tough cookie. He doesn’t kowtow to anybody," Trump said, recalling his interactions in recent months with Strange, whom he frequently called "Big Luther" and a "giant." “Luther Strange is determined to drain that swamp.”
Trump peppered such praise for Strange throughout a free-wheeling speech that lasted nearly an hour and a half while touching upon many issues he brought up during last year’s presidential campaign.
He touched on everything from coal mining jobs and federal regulations to an international climate change agreement and football players who protest the national anthem.
"Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field,'” Trump said.
He also mentioned the U.S. missile defense system, while thanking Huntsville for the city’s work on such technology. The hometown reference was one of many he made during his remarks — he also praised U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama senator, and the state’s college football teams.
After briefly discussing the hurricanes that have ravaged the United States and its territories, the president reflected on his recent appearance at the United Nations.
Without mentioning North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un by name, Trump said, "We can’t have madmen out there shooting rockets all over the place.”
The president also discussed building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Trump once again stressed the importance of having a “see-through” wall, which he said is necessary because people are getting hurt by “100-pound bags of drugs” being tossed over the structure.
The president's visit comes just days ahead of Tuesday’s election.
"On Tuesday vote for your country, vote for your family ... vote for Luther Strange," Trump said in closing.
Polls of the race have shown sometimes wildly different margins, but in general suggest Strange is trailing Moore.
Strange has tied his fortunes to the president’s and presented himself in advertisements as an unquestioning devotee of Trump, while attacking Moore for real or perceived slights to the president.
Trump has rewarded Strange’s devotion with his strong backing, unusual for a sitting president in one of his party’s primaries. Trump tweeted an endorsement of Strange just before the Aug. 15 primary, and later recorded robocalls for him.
Moore also says he will work to achieve the president’s agenda. Best known for his legal fights over depictions of the Ten Commandments, Moore has accused Strange of being a puppet of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who many conservatives blame for the failure of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act over the summer. Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with McConnell, has spent millions of dollars on ads attacking Moore.
Long a champion fundraiser, Strange has easily outdistanced Moore in the money race. According to the Federal Election Commission, Strange spent $2.5 million on the campaign through Sept. 6, versus about $1.1 million for Moore. The numbers do not include outside spending. Senate Leadership Fund has reported spending over $6 million since the beginning of the year.
Moore finished first in the Aug. 15 primary, bringing in 39% of the vote to Strange’s 33%. The former chief justice has also received support from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and, most recently, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
Moore did not appear to harbor any ill will against the president for appearing at the Strange rally.
“We always welcome the president of the United States to our state, and we look forward to working with him after Tuesday,” said Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead. “He’ll find no greater supporter than Roy Moore.”
Trump said although he thought Strange would win Tuesday, he would campaign for Moore if he became the party's nominee.