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In Minneapolis, Trump unloads on critics as impeachment calls mount

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The President smile and claps.
President Trump applauds his supporters as he takes the stage inside of the Target Center in Minneapolis.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 10:23 p.m.

President Trump aired a host of grievances Thursday at a downtown rally, vowing to win Minnesota in 2020 and blasting opponents in front of thousands of supporters as he faces rising calls for his impeachment.

In his first campaign appearance since the House formally began an impeachment inquiry against him, Trump directed his ire at the media, Democrats in Congress and the “dirty political establishment.”

Trump railed against Democratic presidential challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, accusing them without evidence of using the vice presidency for financial gain. Democrats launched an impeachment investigation after it came to light that Trump sought political dirt from Ukraine on Biden and his son.

At one point, Trump said Biden was “only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama's ass."

With pressure rising for his impeachment and possible removal, the stakes were high for Trump as he worked to energize his base, holding a rally in the district of DFL Rep. Ilhan Omar, a frequent Trump critic who’s been the target of Trump’s invective.

“She is a disgrace to our country and she is one of the big reasons that I’m going to win and the Republican Party is going to win Minnesota in 13 months,” he told the cheering crowd during a speech that ran more than 90 minutes with three short interruptions from protesters.

Trump’s appearance in the Twin Cities came as a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows that a slim majority of Americans now approve of the Democratic House-led inquiry into his impeachment. Fifty-two percent say they approve of the inquiry, while 43 percent disapprove.

The uptick in support for the investigation comes mostly from a swing among political independents, NPR reported.

In late September, more independents disapproved of the inquiry than approved, by a 50-44 percent margin. Now, though, those numbers have largely reversed, with more independents approving of the inquiry than disapproving by a 54-41 margin, a net change of 19 points.

Despite those national numbers, Republicans see the potential for Trump to win Minnesota in 2020.

Trump’s team saw his narrow Minnesota loss last time — by about 44,000 votes out of almost 3 million cast — as an invitation to compete in a state that hasn’t voted majority Republican in a presidential race since choosing Richard Nixon in 1972. He made strong gains with voters on Minnesota’s Iron Range, a traditional Democratic stronghold.

Still, Trump’s approval numbers among Minnesotans are not great. Recent polling puts Trump’s job approval rate among Minnesotans at 38 percent while the disapproval rate is running at 56 percent, according to data collected by APM Research Lab, a sister organization of MPR News specializing in analysis of demographics and surveys.

While he talked some of job creation and the economy, he spent much of the Target Center rally portraying himself as a fighter beating back a political establishment that was ought to get him.

“There’s nothing that the dirty political establishment hates more than a president they cannot intimidate and control,” he said.

He repeatedly mocked and attacked Biden, who has called for Trump to be impeached for his seeking political dirt on him and his son from Ukraine and calling for China to investigate as well.

He took swipes at Omar and Somali immigration in Minnesota, suggesting that past governments should have restrained that immigration. He boasted of reducing refugee resettlement in the U.S. by 85 percent.

In a statement following the speech, DFL Party Chair Ken Martin blasted the president for his remarks. 

“Tonight we witnessed a president of the United States who instead of finding ways to bring this country together during a time of unprecedented unease and anxiety has doubled down on his politics of destruction," Martin said. "Demeaning political rivals, attacking the media, gross vulgarity, an immaturity that would make my two teenage sons look like reasoned adults."

Trump also pushed back against widespread anger from Democrats and Republicans who condemned his recent decision to pull the U.S. military out of northern Syria, opening the way for Turkey to attack Kurdish fighters who supported the U.S. effort to crush the ISIS terror group.

“Time to bring them home. We’ve done our job,” he said. “We’ve defeated everyone we’re supposed to defeat.”

President Trump takes the stage in the Target Center
President Trump takes the stage in the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis Thursday night.
Evan Frost | MPR News

‘People have to stand up’

The Target Center, which can hold about 20,000 people, was largely filled for the event, although there were some empty seats in the upper deck. In the skyway outside the Target Center, those at the front of the line say they arrived at 4 a.m. or earlier.

Outside the building, it was loud, but mostly tension-free for much of the day between Trump backers and detractors as a rainy afternoon turned to a rainy evening. As Trump’s speech ended clashes between protesters and police escalated, and police used pepper spray at times to control the crowd.

"People have to stand up for what we believe and not be afraid to come down here, because from what I heard to begin with, I was a little nervous,” said Julie Arnold, who rode into Minneapolis on a bus with several dozen Trump supporters from west-central Minnesota.

Arnold, who spoke to MPR News before the rally began, said she was concerned about anti-Trump protesters but was assured there would be plenty of security.

Cris Windigo did not have a ticket for the rally, but came down from International Falls, Minn., to support Trump.

"Maybe I'm not entirely satisfied with everything, but I think he's the best thing we've got right now,” he said. “I'm loyal to anyone who puts America first. I'd be loyal if a Democrat did what he's doing."

Windigo added that he also loved the drama outside Target Center. "I just like watching all the leftists out here lose their minds."

Hundreds of protesters crowded the streets outside Target Center with crowds ebbing and flowing during the evening.

Lucia Wroblewski, a retired St. Paul police officer, printed up “Cops AGAINST Trump” T-shirts as a response to the “Cops FOR Trump"shirts being sold by the Minneapolis police union.

Trump during the speech lavishly praised Minneapolis police union chief Lt. Bob Kroll, at one point inviting him up to the dais as the crowd applauded.

Many officers think the law is being flouted under the Trump administration, Wroblewski before the rally began.

"They don't like to make their political viewpoints known, but they are disturbed by all that's happening,” she said. “I mean, these are cops. They're for the rule of law. Those of us who care about the law are disturbed by what's going on in Washington, D.C."

MPR News reporters Tim Nelson, Elizabeth Shockman, Elizabeth Dunbar, Matt Sepic, Briana Bierschbach, Brian Bakst, Cody Nelson, Brandt Williams and Chris Graves contributed to this report.