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News Brief: Trump Campaigns In Florida And Threatens Mass Deportations


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The only thing these corrupt politicians will understand is an earthquake at the ballot box, that's what they will understand. And they're going to see it.


That's President Trump officially declaring the start of his reelection campaign during a rally in Orlando, Fla., last night. He said a lot that's familiar. He promised to defeat the establishment. He took shots at the media. He aired grievances about the Mueller report. And he even provoked some chants of lock her up.


NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was there at the rally, and she joins us now from the city of Orlando.

Hi, Tam.


MARTIN: So the president clearly sticking to messages that he knows are at least crowd-pleasers at these kind of rallies, but it doesn't sound so forward-looking.

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, even the soundtrack was the same as his 2016 campaign...

MARTIN: Oh, the literal soundtrack - the music that was playing (laughter).

KEITH: Yes. No, that wasn't me speaking metaphorically.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

KEITH: The music was exactly the same; so were the arguments - most of the arguments. And, you know, he closed out the 2016 campaign talking about the system being rigged and saying the election could be stolen from him. And he kicked off his 2020 campaign with the very same themes. Now he's president. And he's saying that the other party is trying to erase people's votes.


TRUMP: Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice and rage. They want to destroy you. And they want to destroy our country as we know it - not acceptable. It's not going to happen.

KEITH: So to put that into slogans, his argument was that he - that he's made America great again in 2 1/2 years. And now, he is running to keep America great. But, you know, the typical reelection message that focuses on accomplishments, it was there, but that's not where the passion was. The passion was when he was talking about grievances and fear and Hillary Clinton.

MARTIN: Right. It's also interesting he says the Democrats are driven by hatred, prejudice, rage - those are the same criticisms that are levied at him. And he does this often - takes the criticism and then flips it to his opponents. But I want to ask you...

KEITH: Indeed.

MARTIN: What does he mean when he says Democrats want to erase people's votes?

KEITH: He seems to be talking about the Russia investigation, about Robert Mueller and also the Democrats that are now investigating him in Congress, saying that they want a do-over by continuing to investigate him and that that effort is an effort to erase people's votes. And it's something that resonates with folks that are there in the room.

MARTIN: What else did they tell you, those people there in the room, those Trump supporters?

KEITH: You know, one thing that was really interesting, both at this rally - and I had been talking to some Trump supporters earlier in the week - was they kept talking about socialism. And that is something that President Trump mentioned in the State of the Union address and has continued to talk about and was a major focus of this speech last night. It is a way that he is drawing a contrast with Democrats, saying that they want socialism. He wants freedom. Vice President Mike Pence talked about it too. It's worth saying that...

MARTIN: Which we should just say is not - there are - well, go ahead Tam. I think you were going to clarify that.

KEITH: Yeah. It's just worth saying that Democrats are not actually calling for America to be a socialist nation. They're talking about social programs.

MARTIN: Right. Exactly. So the election is more than 500 days away. Are we going to see more of the same from the president?

KEITH: Yeah. It's going to slowly - the rallies will sort of slowly ramp up. But just buckle in, guys.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith in Orlando, Fla.

Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MARTIN: So a lot of the president's appeal within his base has to do with his style, right? But the president's policy on immigration is also fundamental to his presidency.

KING: And that may explain something that he tweeted on Monday. He announced an operation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to round up and deport, quote, "millions of illegal aliens," unquote. He said this will start next week, but the logistics of this whole thing are very unclear because ICE officials are already really busy dealing with a growing number of people who are crossing the U.S. southern border.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose reports on immigration and is here with us in the studio.

Hi, Joel.


MARTIN: Did we hear any more clarity from the president last night at this rally in Orlando, where he launched his official reelection bid? Did he talk about this ICE operation?

ROSE: No, nothing specific. On immigration, the president stayed on pretty familiar ground. He talked about the border wall, said that he would have 400 miles of border wall built by the end of next year, which is highly unlikely given the challenges that he's facing on that front, both in Congress and in the courts. There was nothing in the speech about this new enforcement operation that he mentioned, as you say, on Twitter.

In reality, people who follow Immigration and Customs Enforcement - or ICE - think that there is just not enough capacity to deport millions of people, either in terms of ICE manpower or detention beds. And ICE, as you said, is already really stretched thin dealing with these huge numbers of migrants arriving at the border.

MARTIN: So, I mean, what details have you been able to learn about what the administration is planning? And what's actually realistic here?

ROSE: Well, the administration says it's planning a new enforcement blitz to apprehend migrants who've recently arrived in the U.S. and who already have a final order of removal from a judge. And that would include many of the migrant families that we've been talking about a lot because they're coming to the southern border in record numbers, mostly from Central America. This is a much smaller group than the millions that Trump tweeted about, right? Many of these migrant families already have final orders of removal because their cases were fast-tracked. And as for where this might be happening, the administration has been tracking migrant families in some of the nation's busiest immigration courts - Los Angeles, New York, Houston among them. And the number of migrant families we're talking about here is roughly 10,000 - so not millions. Trump has repeatedly said this will begin next week, but it's really hard to predict the timing because ICE doesn't, you know, usually announce its raids in advance.

MARTIN: So what are immigration advocates - what is their message to these people who are here illegally?

ROSE: Well, on the one hand, they're planning for the worst. They're making sure that immigrant communities know their rights, are prepared if ICE agents knock on the door. But the advocates that I've talked to are also skeptical. They think a lot of this is political theater and that these mass deportations are not likely, at least not on the scale that the president has promised.

Jess Morales Rocketto is the co-chair of Families Belong Together, which advocates for immigrant rights.

JESS MORALES ROCKETTO: It's a really disgusting, political ploy. Everything he does is designed to stoke hate and rile up his base. And it may not be exactly like what Trump promised in his tweets, but it certainly does send shockwaves through immigrant refugee communities.

ROSE: So, you know, maybe this is more of the same rhetoric that Trump has been using since he launched his campaign - his first campaign four years ago, or it could be the beginning of a new phase in his crackdown. It's something, you know, we'll be watching in the next few weeks.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Joel Rose for us.

Thanks, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right. Army Secretary Mark Esper is now acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

KING: That's right. He's replacing Patrick Shanahan, who himself stepped in as acting secretary of defense after James Mattis resigned late last year. Shanahan resigned on Tuesday as details were surfacing of some turbulence in his personal life and what he described to The Washington Post as a family tragedy.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Bowman covers the Pentagon and joins us now.

Hi, Tom.


MARTIN: I mean, this a lot of names we just listed off there. Mark Esper stepping in for Patrick Shanahan, who stepped in for James Mattis. This is not exactly a job where you want a revolving door. But just before we get to Mark Esper, can you explain what we know about why Shanahan is leaving?

BOWMAN: Well, what Shanahan said is that he didn't want to relive a traumatic chapter in our family's life. He didn't want to dredge it through a confirmation hearing. And what happened, basically, is back in August of 2010, Shanahan had a very bitter argument with his wife Kimberley outside their home in Seattle. She called the police and claimed that he punched her in the stomach, an allegation he denies. And when police officers arrived, they found him with a bloody nose, scratches on his face. According to police records first reported by USA Today, authorities charged his wife with domestic violence. Charges were later dropped, and then he filed for divorce.

MARTIN: So the man who is now to take over in this incredibly important Cabinet position is Mark Esper. He's a familiar name at the Pentagon, right?

BOWMAN: Oh, he is a familiar name - Army secretary for, you know, almost two years now. He's a 1986 West Point graduate; interestingly, the same class as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He served with 101st Airborne in the first Gulf War, later worked on Capitol Hill and for the defense contractor Raytheon. And he's been cutting a lot of Army programs to switch to future needs - like long-range artillery, electronic warfare, cyber.

And he's also more recently been focusing on problems like Army housing. Rachel, you, of course, remember there was a kind of a scandal with decrepit, moldy housing back in the spring.

MARTIN: Right.

BOWMAN: And I visited some of the housing at Fort Bragg, N.C., with Esper. He told the families he was really sorry, and they're going to fix it.

MARTIN: But who is he as a policy guy? I mean, is he the kind of person - especially in this moment with Iran, where there's all this tension and talk about a potential U.S. military intervention in some way. Is he the kind of guy who goes into President Trump, into the Oval Office and says, listen, President Trump. This is the real - these are the real facts on the ground, and they might not match up with what you think.

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know yet because he really hasn't been tested. As I've said, he's been focusing on Army programs not these wider programs like Iran, North Korea, China, you know, the future of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, let's say. And one of the problems with Patrick Shanahan was - the sense was he wouldn't stand up to Trump, that he was a yes man and very different from his predecessor, Jim Mattis, that he was - you know, he had no problem standing up to Trump or anyone else on defense matters or other matters.

So one of the questions, again, is going to be that, will Esper be able to stand up? Or will policy - as many people think today, is really being run by Secretary of State Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton. Again, Esper, at this point, seems to be - clearly is untested.

MARTIN: And we still don't know if he's even going to get the permanent job, right?

BOWMAN: Well, it seems that way. Trump has indicated that he will nominate him for the permanent job. And Esper starts as acting secretary on Monday.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Bowman.

Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "MELODY OF THE SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.