Updated at 10:45 p.m.
President Trump blasted a federal judge’s decision to temporarily halt his revised travel ban on Wednesday night, telling a campaign rally in Nashville, Tenn., that he wished he had stood his ground and fought for his original, much stricter executive order.
“The order he blocked was a watered-down version of the first order that was also blocked by another judge and should have never been blocked to start with,” Trump said, referring to the decision earlier in the day by U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson of Hawaii. “This new order was tailored to the dictates of the 9th Circuit’s, in my opinion, flawed ruling. This was, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach.”
“I think we ought to go back to the first one [executive order] and go all the way” to the Supreme Court, the president told the receptive crowd, adding that “this ruling makes us look weak.”
“The best way to keep foreign terrorists — or as some would say, radical Islamic terrorists — the best way to stop them is to keep them from entering our country in the first place,” Trump said.
Those comments get to the heart of the court’s concerns with the travel ban, which had been set to take effect at midnight after being revised last week. Judge Watson wrote that — given past public statements made by the president and his staff — “a reasonable, objective observer … would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.”
Opponents of Trump’s travel ban were ecstatic on Twitter Wednesday evening that the president speech kept giving them more fodder to use against him in court, including American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director Cecillia Wang:
Nevertheless, Trump argued that the president had wide legal authority when it came to decisions on immigration and national security. He also couldn’t resist making a election-related jab at what was billed at a campaign event just over 50 days into his presidency.
“The law and the Constitution give the president the power to suspend immigration, when he deems — or she, fortunately it will not be Hillary ‘she’ — when he or she deems it to be in the national interests of our country,” Trump said.
The very mention of his former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton started off a familiar campaign refrain of “lock her up.” Trump looked on, neither commenting nor waving the crowd off.
His remarks on his administration’s latest setback came halfway into his speech, after a long windup in which Trump ran through some of his other campaign trail classics — railing against the media, and promising to bring back American jobs and roll back trade agreements.
“From now on we are going to defend the American worker and our great American companies. And if America does what it says and if your president does what I’ve been telling you, there is nobody anywhere in the world that can even come close to us, folks. Not even close,” Trump boasted.
And of course there was Trump’s reiteration of his signature campaign pledge to erect a massive wall along the Mexican border — and along with it, chants from the crowd of “build the wall!”
“We will build the wall –don’t even think about it,” Trump promised, claiming that the government already had received hundreds of construction bids.
It’s clear that Trump draws energy from such campaign-style rallies, and they’ve become a way for him to try and change the subject du jour before an adoring crowd, but it’s unprecedented to hold such events so early in his term and so far away from his re-election. He held the first rally last month in Florida, and has another scheduled for Monday in Kentucky.
Earlier in the day, he made an official White House stop in Detroit to announce he was rolling back President Obama’s fuel economy standards, touting that decision as one that would spur more manufacturing growth in the auto industry.
After that, Trump had stopped off at President Andrew Jackson’s nearby Hermitage plantation, laying a wreath on his grave for what would have been Jackson’s 250th birthday. Trump often likes to draw allusions between himself and the first Democratic president, given the populist zeal that brought them both into office.
Trump repeated at his Nashville rally his claim that he had done much more than any president had in his first 50 days in office — even Jackson — and some in the crowd had been given signs that read, “Promises made. Promises kept.”
“We’ve been putting our America First agenda very much in action. We’re keeping our promises,” Trump said.
That boast belies the rocky start he’s experienced, including fresh setbackson Wednesday — not just another halting of his travel ban, but continued struggles in getting even members of his own party on board with the GOP’s Obamacare replacement plan.
Even with health care being one of the most important topics of the day, he didn’t address the issue until late in his speech.
“The bill that I will ultimately sign will get rid of Obamacare and make health care better for you and your family,” Trump said, decrying many insurers who already had pulled out of federal exchanges in the Volunteer State under Obamacare.
“Remember folks, if we don’t do anything, Obamacare will be gone,” Trump said, promising that he and Republicans would “not be intimidated” in their quest.
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