President Donald Trump Visits Yuma Border, Phoenix Student Event

By Jimmy Jenkins, Ben Giles, Mark Brodie, Lauren Gilger, Bridget Dowd, Chad Snow, Sky Schaudt
Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 8:03am
Updated: Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 7:01am

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7:47 p.m.

President Trump made a pair of stops in Arizona on Tuesday, visiting Yuma before addressing a group of students in Phoenix. Trump gave the Phoenix audience an update on border wall construction.

“And I’ve just come from the Arizona border. Yuma. Where we marked the completion of over 220 miles of brand-new beautiful border wall."

Trump went on to say the wall will stand 30 feet tall and be equipped with cameras, sensors and other technology.

“We have anti-climb provision on the top. We have the whole deal. And it’s very powerful. And by the way, where that wall is, nobody’s getting through.”

The young crowd cheered the president throughout, and at one point erupted into the "build the wall" chant that has become a hallmark of his rallies.

President Trump did not address Arizona’s record-breaking resurgence of COVID-19 cases. But he did run through various nicknames he has given the coronavirus. And — urged on by the audience — repeated a racially insensitive remark he made Saturday in Tulsa.

Donald Trump
White House
President Donald Trump speaks to "Students for Trump" in Phoenix on June 23, 2020.

“Wuhan was catching on. Coronavirus, right? Kung Flu, yeah,” Trump said as the crowd applauded.

Trump also expressed confusion about the term COVID-19, so-named because the outbreak was first identified in 2019.

“COVID, COVID-19, COVID. I said, ‘What’s the 19, COVID-19?’ Some people can’t explain what the 19. Gimme the … COVID-19, I said, ‘That’s an odd name.’”

Face coverings are now required by Maricopa County and the city of Phoenix in public settings where social distancing is not possible. Although the venue appeared full, most members of the audience were not wearing masks.

— Chad Snow

4:56 p.m.

President Trump finished addressing a crowd of young supporters at the Dream City Church in north Phoenix.

Outside the Trump rally at Sharon and Cave Creek Road, Phoenix police declared an unlawful assembly and used flashbangs and what seem to be pepper spray to disperse protesters who were here, voicing their opposition to President Trump in an area marked as a free-speech zone.

There is now a standoff between protesters and at least 50 Phoenix police in riot gear.

— Jimmy Jenkins

3:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump was in Yuma on Tuesday where he visited a section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

Trump visited a section of the fence near the border town of San Luis, Arizona. His visit was to commemorate more than 200 miles of fencing built.

Before visiting the fence, Trump met with local, state and federal officials at the Yuma Border Patrol Headquarters.

“I’m thrilled to be in Yuma, Arizona, they treated me very nicely in Arizona so we’re very happy about that right governor, to commemorate the completion of more than 200 miles of powerful border wall and we’re on pace to complete 450 miles by the end of the year," said Trump.

Trump’s visit to Arizona came as the state has experienced a jump in the number of COVID-19 cases. He and others in his traveling party did not wear face masks as is required in Yuma and San Luis.

— Victor Calderon, KAWC

3:04 p.m.

A mix of young and older supporters gathered to hear the president and see a lineup of state and national figures from the Republican party.

Jasmine Wheeler, an incoming high school freshman from Peoria, says it’s important for young people to educate themselves on politics:

“Most people just rely on their parents, like, their political views and stuff, and so when you get older you’re just going to think what they think and you’re not actually gonna know why you support who you support.”

— Jimmy Jenkins

1:48 p.m.

Judging by the size of the crowd waiting to get inside Dream City Church in north Phoenix, President Trump’s latest event in Arizona is smaller than normal.

Paul Hudak said he was worried when he applied to attend the Students for Trump rally — he’s 40, after all. Perhaps he wouldn’t be allowed to attend.

But it was important to him to come support young people who support the president.

Hudak said event staff made a concerted effort to get students inside the church.

"It’s turning out that we’ve let all the students in first, and so now that they’re in, you can see that the security is now allowing the adults to come in," said Hudak.

Hudak said Trump’s supporters are glad to see the president back in Arizona.

— Ben Giles

1:07 p.m.

After visiting Yuma this morning, President Trump is heading to Phoenix this afternoon to address a group of young supporters. Jimmy Jenkins is outside the church where the president will be speaking.

Here at the "Students for Trump" rally in Phoenix, a mix of younger and older supporters are slowly filing into the Dream City Church. It's the first time seeing the president for many young people here who say jobs and the economy are their number one issue. Longtime Trump supporters are here as well.

Despite a mandate from the city of Phoenix, most people in attendance are not wearing masks.

— Jimmy Jenkins

11:23 a.m.

Joe Biden is responding to Trump’s visit.

The presumptive Democratic nominee sent out a statement Tuesday morning, calling Trump’s choice to hold a rally in Arizona "reckless and irresponsible." 

biden statement
Biden For President

Biden criticized the President for not focusing on what he called public health and economic crises in the country. 

Biden said the rally was only a distraction from Trump’s "inability to offer a concrete, effective reopening plan that’s rooted in science and public health.:

Arizona has surpassed 58,000 cases and 1,300 deaths due to COVID-19.

— Bridget Dowd

9:08 a.m.

People line up outside Dream City Church in Phoenix
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
People line up outside Dream City Church in Phoenix for the event with President Donald Trump on June 23, 2020.

MARK BRODIE: President Trump will be in Arizona today, even as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the state.

LAUREN GILGER: The Arizona Department of Health Services reports another record today with 3,591 new cases in the last 24 hours. That brings the total number of Arizonans who have tested positive for COVID to 58,179 . We’ve seen 42 new deaths reported in that time from COVID as well. And the number of ICU beds in use in Arizona hospitals continues to tick up — 84% of them are in use right now. 

BRODIE: Before heading to Phoenix this afternoon, President Donald Trump will be scheduled to stop in Yuma this morning to commemorate the 200th mile of border wall. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says the president will hold a roundtable discussion on border security with elected officials and community leaders at the Border Patrol station in Yuma. He’ll then visit the wall with Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan. With us to tell us more is Arizona Public Media’s Alisa Reznick in Tucson. Alisa, good morning.

ALISA REZNICK: Good morning, thanks for having me. 

BRODIE: Well, thank you for being here. So tell us, what’s in store for the president in Arizona today? 

REZNICK: Yeah, so in May, Acting Secretary Chad Wolf announced DHS had built over 180 miles of border wall and wanted to finish 450 by the end of the year. So they’re in Yuma today to commemorate that 200th mile. And actually, Yumans have been preparing for this trip for a while. The Washington Post reported Trump was planning a trip to Yuma early in June, but that never materialized. And there aren’t any concrete details about where exactly the ceremony will occur along the border, but it’s probably safe to say that they’ll be doing something like what happened year in January — a plaque will be hung, and a few local officials will speak with Trump before he heads to Phoenix.

BRODIE: Alisa, what about supporters or protesters?  Are they able to see or try to be heard by the president?

REZNICK: This isn’t a public visit, and it’s not open to the public. However, there is are expectations that there will be some folks showing up near the Border Patrol’s Yuma headquarters or at the airport to support the president. But I also talked with Liz Haskell with the local chapter of the progressive advocacy group Indivisible, and she said they want to protest the president’s visit.

LIZ HASKELL: We’re not all with Trump. We’re pissed off about a lot of things. About COVID, about racism, about his wall. 

BRODIE: Well Alisa, sounds like there’s a lot more going on than just the wall. What is she talking about? 

REZNICK: Yeah. First on a lot of people’s minds are Yuma’s COVID-19 numbers. They are shooting up quickly. Yuma County had a relatively low number of recorded cases when Gov. Ducey lifted the stay-at-home order on May 15 — only about 300. And today, there are over 4,700 cases there. So environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and medical groups say Trump's trip is irresponsible when cases are surging not just in Yuma but around the state. Locals are also worried about contagion from other states. Two campaign staffers tested positive for coronavirus after Trump’s campaign trip to Tulsa. And this month, actually, an Arizona health official for Pima County confirmed two wall workers in southern Arizona have COVID-19 as well. Lately, other Customs and Border Protection spending has also been an issue. An audit showed the agency spent millions from Congress on things like ATVs and dirt bikes, instead of the humanitarian aid along the border that it was meant to pay for. Locals also told me before the pandemic closed the border, it wasn’t unusual to have to wait hours trying to cross at the San Luis port of entry near Yuma.

BRODIE: So what about masks? We have to ask about that. Will officials be required to wear them on this excursion?

REZNICK: It’s doubtful. Trump is headed to Phoenix right after being in Yuma. And Mayor Kate Gallego has asked him to wear a mask, but she seems to have stopped short of actually requiring it at this time. 

BRODIE: Now Alisa, you said we don’t know exactly where the president will be, but do we know about the area he’s visiting? 

REZNICK: Yeah, Homeland Security says the tour will happen somewhere along the border in San Luis, Arizona. And that’s a small city. That’s about a half hour’s drive from Yuma proper. There’s a commercial and general port of entry there and on the other side is the Sonoran town of San Luis Río Colorado. It’s now lined by a 30-foot bollard-style wall, so that's made up of thick metal posts and topped with another metal sheet. That's a big contrast from the sort of mishmash of chest-high vehicle barriers and Vietnam War-era landing mat platforms that used to be in that area. 

BRODIE: Interesting. All right. Certainly lots more to talk about when the president visits Yuma and then later to Phoenix this afternoon. That is Alisa Reznick with Arizona Public Media in Tucson. Alisa, thank you.

REZNICK: Thank you.

8:54 a.m.

People lined up outside Dream City Church in Phoenix
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
People line up outside Dream City Church in Phoenix for the event with President Donald Trump on June 23, 2020.

Hundreds were lined up early for the Trump event at Dream City Church near Thunderbird and Cave Creek roads in north Phoenix.

The doors to the event open at 11 a.m., the "Students for Trump" event begins at 1:30 p.m. and President Trump is scheduled to speak around 3 p.m.

— Sky Schaudt

5 a.m.

President Donald J. Trump
Tia Dufour/White House
President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One for his departure on June 20, 2020, from Tulsa International Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Regrouping after a humbling weekend rally, President Donald Trump faces another test of his ability to draw a crowd during a pandemic Tuesday as he visits Arizona and tries to remind voters of one of his key 2016 campaign promises.

Trump’s weekend rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was meant to be a sign of the nation’s reopening and a show of political force but instead generated thousands of empty seats and swirling questions about the president’s campaign leadership and his case for another four years in office. The low turnout has sharpened the focus on Trump’s visit to Arizona, which doubles as both a 2020 battleground state and a surging coronavirus hot spot.

First, the president will travel to Yuma to mark the construction of more than 200 miles of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, an issue that he built his campaign on four years ago. Later, he'll address a group of young Republicans at a Phoenix megachurch, where event organizers have pledged thousands will attend.

Throughout the trip, the COVID-19 pandemic will shadow Trump. The Democratic mayor of Phoenix made clear that she does not believe the speech can be safely held in her city — and urged the president to wear a face mask.

“Everyone attending tomorrow’s event, particularly any elected official, should set an example to residents by wearing a mask,” said Mayor Kate Gallego. “This includes the President.”

Trump has refused to wear a mask in public, instead turning it into a red-vs.-blue cultural issue. Polling suggests that Republicans are far less likely to wear a face covering than Democrats despite health experts’ warnings that it dramatically reduces the risk of transmitting the virus.

The “Students for Trump” event will be held at the Dream City Church and broadcast to groups across the nation. Students for Trump is a special project of Turning Point Action, a grouped chaired by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, which is hosting the president for his address. Organizers said health and safety measures still were being finalized and it was unclear if attendees would be asked to wear masks or keep socially distant.

Since late May, Arizona has emerged as one of the nation’s most active hot spots for the spread of COVID-19. Use of hospitals, intensive care units and ventilators has set daily records over the past week.

Photos of restaurants and bars crowded with unmasked patrons ignited controversy. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, a Trump supporter, reversed himself last week and allowed cities and counties to require people to wear masks in public places. Most have, including Phoenix and Yuma and the counties that surround them.

Arizona is seeing disturbing trends in several benchmarks, including the percentage of tests that prove positive for the virus, which is the highest in the nation.

The state’s positive test rate is at a seven-day average of 20.4%, well above the national average of 8.4% and the 10% level that public health officials say is a problem.

Campaign officials are still assessing the fallout from low turnout in Tulsa amid concern about the virus.

Campaign officials stressed that rallies would remain a staple of the president’s reelection strategy but allowed that they may, in certain states, need to change slightly. Discussions were under way about having them in more modest venues or outdoors, perhaps in airplane hangers and amphitheaters, or in smaller cities away from likely protesters.

But officials believe that Trump’s ability to draw thousands of supporters out during a pandemic sets up a favorable contrasting image with Democratic rival Joe Biden. Still, the campaign has struggled to find effective attack lines on Biden.

Biden, like Trump, has had struggles with young voters but the former vice president’s campaign has expressed hope that the national protests against racial injustice may change that.

Trump’s visit to the Phoenix megachurch will come on the same day that Pence kicks off a faith-centered tour, highlighting the central position that religious conservatives — particularly white evangelicals, but also right-leaning Catholics — continue to occupy in the president’s base. Yet even as Trump’s campaign overtly courts religious voters, there are signs of softening support among voting blocs the president can’t afford to lose.

A poll released earlier this month by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute found that the share of white Catholics viewing Trump favorably had fallen by double digits since last year, measuring 37% in the last week of May compared with 49% across 2019. The same poll found Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals at 62% in May, a level comparable to 2019’s — but 15% less than it was in March.

Trump's focus on construction of his long-promised border wall also is meant to shore up support with his most loyal supporters.

His administration has promised to build 450 miles by the end of the year, but that seems unlikely. The government has awarded more than $6.1 billion in construction contracts since April 2019 for various projects along the border. It has also waived procurement rules that critics say make the process of awarding multi-million dollar contracts secretive and opaque.

The White House this month floated a theory that travel from Mexico may be contributing to a new wave of coronavirus infections, rather than states’ efforts to reopen their economies. It was not clear that the evidence supports the theory.

Trump’s first visit to the border in more than a year comes a day after another hardline immigration move. The Trump administration said Monday that it was extending a ban on green cards issued outside the United States until the end of the year and adding many temporary work visas to the freeze, including those used heavily by technology companies and multinational corporations.

The administration cast the effort as a way to free up jobs in an economy reeling from the coronavirus.

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