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During Tenn. Rally, Trump Tests Midterm Message


Republicans are hoping to keep control of Congress this fall, mostly by running on the state of the economy and the tax cuts that they passed last year. But when President Trump campaigned in Tennessee last night for a Republican Senate candidate, the speech rambled far and wide to many topics. And the heart of his message was not taxes but immigration.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you can say what you want, but I think border security and security in general is a great issue for the Republican Party. I think it's a great issue, not a bad issue.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe covers the White House. She was at the rally in Nashville. Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did the president talk about immigration?

RASCOE: President Trump focused a lot on MS-13, really trying to drive home this point or make this case that illegal immigration is a safety issue. He basically said Democrats are too soft on gang members and care more about criminals than citizens.

INSKEEP: We should be clear about this. This is a discussion of the fate of millions of people, not all of whom by any means are gang members. But the president narrows it down to gang members and essentially says if you support anyone in that category, you're supporting MS-13.

RASCOE: And that's what Democrats have argued, that President Trump's policies, even though he's talking about MS-13, they are going to have an impact on a lot of people coming across the border who have nothing to do with gangs. And so a lot of these policies, they say, are cruel and not really in line with American values. But it's interesting that President Trump has chosen to focus on immigration because Congressional Republican leaders have really been trying to avoid that fight on immigration, particularly on this issue of the so-called DREAMers, the immigrants who were brought here very young and don't have proper documentation. They don't want this issue dominating the campaign.

INSKEEP: Yeah because there's some division among Republicans about DREAMers. So the president was there for a specific purpose. There is a member of Congress, Marsha Blackburn, who's running for an open Senate seat. How did he promote her?

RASCOE: He really talked up Marsha Blackburn, and he kept coming back to her again and again in his speech. And that's notable because a lot of times at these rallies, President Trump can end up kind of focusing more on himself and his record or making some controversial statement that overshadows the person who he's trying to support. Marsha Blackburn was at the rally, and she spoke to the crowd and said that President Trump needs Republicans who will back him. Here's more of what she had to say.


MARSHA BLACKBURN: Tennessee needs a senator who is going to support President Donald Trump. And I am going to be there to stand with President Donald Trump and take your Tennessee values to Washington, D.C., to fight with him to get the job done. Thank you all so much.

RASCOE: So that might have been a dig at Senator Bob Corker, who Blackburn is trying to replace in the Senate. Corker has been critical of President Trump at times.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. One other thing we want to mention here, The New York Times is reporting today a new development in the investigation of obstruction of justice, saying that President Trump at one point berated Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for recusing himself and told him to reverse that decision. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.