During his first-ever presidential visit to Columbia on Thursday, President Donald Trump complimented U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley and told a crowd of thousands why Hawley should be elected over incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Trump visited Columbia to stump for Hawley in a final push to boost Republican voter turnout before Tuesday’s election. More than 6,000 people attended the rally held at Columbia Regional Airport’s Hangar 350. The hangar was full within a half hour after doors opened at 3:30 p.m.
John Geha and Blake Cottle, who hail from Fayette and Marshall, respectively, attended the event together. The two will soon be father-in-law and son-in-law.
Cottle said he found the overwhelming presence of “American spirit” at the event “mind-boggling.”
“I was very excited about it being in Columbia,” Cottle said. “I couldn’t put it into words.”
The president stepped off the plane to Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” and was met with raucous applause from his supporters in both the hangar and the overflow section.
Hawley and Trump both briefly spoke to the overflow crowd just outside the hangar before Trump’s speech. Hawley spoke once during Trump’s speech for about three minutes. He talked about how he thinks McCaskill shouldn’t be in office anymore, comparing her to Hillary Clinton. He called McCaskill a “career politician” who hasn’t noticed the work Trump has done for Missourians.
When Hawley mentioned that McCaskill reminded him of Hillary Clinton, the familiar “lock her up” chants erupted from the swarms of supporters.
Hawley said Trump is putting pro-Constitution judges on the bench, such as recently confirmed Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. McCaskill voted no to both nominations. He also said McCaskill votes no on border security and that she supports an “open borders bill” in Congress. He said she votes against tax cuts and Trump’s border wall.
“Is that what we want?” he asked the crowd. The crowd yelled no, and soon erupted into chants of “USA! USA! USA!”
Trump’s speech mostly centered around his own goals and ideas to improve trade relations and curb the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
Trump called Hawley “one of the greatest Republicans of Missouri.” He also announced plans to visit Missouri again at 9 p.m. Monday in Cape Girardeau.
One of Trump’s ideas regarding border security is the elimination of birthright citizenship, which has historically been supported by the 14th Amendment and guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. He called the law a “crazy lunatic policy that we can end.” He first announced the policy Tuesday, but many Constitution experts and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said an executive order couldn’t change the Constitution.
Trump claimed in Thursday’s speech that, for example, if a “dictator who we hate” were to have a child on American soil, the child would be an American citizen and could bring their family to the U.S. through “chain migration.”
The crowd booed after the comment.
“Hundreds of thousands of children of illegal immigrants are made instantly eligible for every privilege and benefit of American citizenship,” he continued. “All of you, you get nothing more than they do. They’re full citizens and it’s costing us many, many millions of dollars a year.”
He added that people all over the world participate in this “industry,” which he called “birth tourism.” He said that includes people from China, who he said fly to America for the sole purpose of giving birth to children on American soil so they have citizenship.
He said the thousands of migrants currently traveling in caravans through Central America to the border between the U.S. and Mexico aren’t “angels.”
“These are tough people, these are not little angels, and we are not letting them into our country,” he said to great applause. “When you take a look at the scene thousands and thousands of people are marching. And then you hear that Democrats want to have open borders. And they want to invite caravan after caravan into our country, overwhelming our schools and hospitals and our communities.”
He said, however, that America does need immigrants. But they need to be chosen by “merit” and not a “lottery.”
“When countries put people in a lottery, do you really believe they’re giving us their finest?” he asked.
The crowd yelled “No!”
Trump also discussed the economy and said it’s improved since he’s been in office. He claimed the U.S. currently boasts the “lowest rate of African American unemployment in centuries.” He said the U.S. steel industry is “thriving” and he’s “cracked down on China’s trade practices.”
Periodic breaks in Trump’s speech meant “USA!” chants from the crowd.
Trump has been to Missouri 10 times since being elected president. Trump carried Missouri by 19 points in the 2016 election.
But it’s been 10 years since a president or presidential candidate came to Columbia. The last was then-Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning for presidential election in 2008. Obama’s visit was held on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle on MU’s campus.
People began lining up for the rally early in the morning as 2 miles worth of cars sat by the Columbia Regional Airport exit off U.S. 63. Shuttles carried people to the overflow area.
Ken and Christina Storla of Millersburg said a highlight of the rally for them was when President Trump spoke in front of the overflow crowd after stepping off of Air Force One. Another highlight was seeing the aircraft in person, they said.
“It’s nice to know that he cares enough to shout out to the people who couldn’t make it in,” Christina Storla said.
Many Republican politicians and elected officials attended the rally, including: Boone County District I Commissioner Fred Parry; Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks; former Missouri governor, senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft; Gov. Mike Parson; Sen. Roy Blunt; and several U.S representatives, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler. All spoke ahead of Trump’s speech and received roars from the crowd at the mention of Hawley.
T-shirts, hats and signs were given to the crowd by staffers before the rally began. The signs, which included ones titled “Drain the Swamp,” “Tigers for Trump,” “Promises Made, Promises Kept” and “Finish the Wall” rippled through the masses as people clamored to grab them.
Joseph Scott Bennett and Mary Bennett, a married couple in their 60s, traveled from Auxvasse to attend the event. They said they are “strong supporters” of the president and described the rally as “vibrant.”
“It’s the chance of a lifetime,” said Joseph Scott Bennett, who works as a traveling nurse throughout Missouri. “His statements are real and he doesn’t falter back and forth.”