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Trump says impeachment will backfire on Democrats as he rallies supporters in Pennsylvania

President Donald Trump used a campaign visit to Pennsylvania on Tuesday to dismiss and mock the articles of impeachment Democrats unveiled hours earlier, predicting impeachment will backfire on his political opponents.

President Trump acknowledges Vice President Mike Pence at the beginning of his campaign rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Dec. 10, 2019.
President Trump acknowledges Vice President Mike Pence at the beginning of his campaign rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Dec. 10, 2019.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

HERSHEY, Pa. — President Donald Trump used a campaign visit to Pennsylvania on Tuesday to dismiss and mock the articles of impeachment Democrats unveiled hours earlier, predicting the process will backfire on his political opponents.

“Any Democrat that votes for this sham will be voting to sacrifice the House majority, their dignity, and their career," Trump said as he rallied more than 10,000 supporters in a state crucial to his 2020 reelection bid. He said the “partisan lunatics have said they will try again” if they lose at trial in the Senate. (Democratic leaders have given no indication they would pursue impeachment again after an expected acquittal in the Senate.)

“You saw their so-called articles of impeachment today? People are saying they’re not even a crime," Trump said. “This is impeachment lite. This is the lightest impeachment in the history of our country by far. It’s not even like an impeachment. These people are stone-cold crooked.”

Supporters roared throughout the almost 90-minute speech that often meandered into familiar refrains and insults of the press and other perceived enemies. He continuously came back to impeachment.

Trump also questioned the timing of the Democrats’ decision, also on Tuesday, to support a long-delayed trade deal his administration negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. He called it the “silver lining” of impeachment.

“It’s a huge deal, and it plays down the impeachment, because they’re embarrassed by the impeachment,” Trump said.

During his speech, Trump also attacked Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. The blast came just days after John McNesby, president of Philadelphia’s police union, met with the president at the White House to condemn prosecutors such as Krasner, who have won office across the country pledging to make the criminal justice system less punitive.

“You have the worst district attorney,” Trump said, referencing Philadelphia, about 100 miles east. “I’ve been hearing about this guy, he lets killers out almost immediately.... You better get yourself a new prosecutor.”

Following the rally, state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills said Trump’s appearance was an attempt to play defense in Pennsylvania, “because of his broken promises to working families in our commonwealth.” She challenged Trump’s claims that he’s improved the lives of Pennsylvanians and said Democrats in the state would be “working around the clock to ensure victory in 2020.”

Thousands of supporters huddled in a cold rain for hours Tuesday, waiting to enter a hockey arena for the rally, scheduled in a strategically important region of Pennsylvania.

“Mr. Trump is a disruptor; he’s not a politician," said Michael Townsend, 70, of Carlisle. "He’s the right person we need right now. The world’s not fairy tales and pixies, it’s all these countries that want to destroy us.”

Townsend wasn’t worried about impeachment. “The real trial is in the Senate. And the Senate fortunately is run by Republicans.... I just want to see Joe Biden and his son be forced to testify," he said.

Impeachment is "a very sad situation,” Eunice Rambo Smith lamented while standing in a concession line.

“They think they have to take the president down in that way, because they know they don’t have anyone who can beat him," said Smith, of Center Valley. "It’s just all fake. It’s all fake. But I don’t think it hurts him. I think he gets stronger. He’s a very strong man.”

The newly drafted articles of impeachment, if approved by the House as expected, would charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of a lawful congressional investigation. Democrats have built a case in recent weeks that Trump abused his power by holding up a coveted White House visit and military aid approved by Congress while pushing for Ukraine to announce investigations into Biden and a discredited conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and Republicans in Congress have dismissed the impeachment inquiry as illegitimate even as a growing number of witnesses bolstered the allegations.

Vice President Mike Pence, who introduced Trump at the “Keep America Great" rally at the Giant Center, campaigned earlier in the day in western Pennsylvania.

“He’s coming to a key region in one of the most pivotal states in the 2020 election cycle,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College. Borick said Trump needs to “energize a base of voters that have been there for him in 2016 and to perhaps marginally expand that base so he can repeat.”

Pennsylvania is crucial to Trump’s reelection bid. In 2016, he defeated Hillary Clinton by less than one percentage point — 44,000 votes — to capture the state’s 20 electoral votes. But in recent years, Pennsylvania’s cities and their outlying suburbs have grown more liberal, while rural areas have grown more conservative. That makes areas with both populations, like Dauphin County, which Trump visited, key in determining who wins the state in 2020.

Dauphin, where Hershey is based, is a swing county in a swing state. It added 34,000 voters to its rolls over the last two decades. But it’s no longer as reliably Republican as it once was, with 49% of voters in the country casting a ballot for Clinton in 2016.

Trump payed homage to Pennsylvania favorites like Hershey’s Chocolate, the Nittany Lions, and the Liberty Bell. He touted Pennsylvania’s economy as better now than three years ago, citing a recent visit he made to a new Shell petrochemical plant near Pittsburgh.

The president said steel mills in Pennsylvania are “roaring back to life" — some job cuts in the industry have recently been announced — and said ramped-up natural gas production will create thousands of jobs. He blasted Democrats, including Biden, who have said they would move to end the use of fossil fuels.

“The voters of this commonwealth will never let that happen,” Trump said. “Can you imagine?”

The rally was Trump’s fourth appearance in the state in 2019. Earlier in the year, Trump had rallies in Lycoming and Beaver Counties. He also appeared at an energy industry conference in Pittsburgh in October.

Before ending with his signature “Make America Great Again” chant, Trump invoked a more historic call and response, referencing George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. “They used the password, ‘Victory or Death,’” Trump said. He repeated: “Victory or Death.”