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Trump regales Louisville crowd with familiar pledges, ignores FBI probe

Deborah Yetter, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal 12:02 a.m. ET March 21, 2017

CLOSETrump regales Louisville crowd with familiar pledges, ignores FBI probe
Trump regales Louisville crowd with familiar pledges, ignores FBI probe

If so, it would be his first visit as the 45th president of the United States. Rachel Aretakis/Wochit

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President Trump listens to the applause during his speech at Freedom Hall, in Louisville. March 20, 2017.(Photo: By Pat McDonogh / The C-J)

LOUISVILLE — President Trump appeared before a thunderously approving crowd in Louisville Monday, offering a familiar blend of promises to restore jobs, cut taxes and stop illegal immigration.

But above all, the Republican president pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, calling the federal health law "a catastrophe" to cheers in a state where the law helped achieve one of the nation's sharpest drops among people without health insurance.

"This is our long-awaited chance to finally get rid of Obamacare," Trump said referring the GOP plan pending in the House. "We're gonna do it."

Trump made no references to the plan's growing difficulties in Congress among both liberals and conservatives. Nor did he mention testimony earlier Monday that discredited his tweets about wiretaps at Trump Tower or about an FBI investigation into suspected ties between his campaign and the Russians.

And the crowd, decked out in Trump T-shirts, "Make America Great Again" caps and waving Trump signs, didn't seem to care.

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Over and over they roared approval for his familiar campaign lines, joining him in a chant at the end of his speech to "make America great again."

"The United States of America is your country again!" Trump said at the end of his 40-minute speech at Freedom Hall, which was packed with supporters.

Earlier protesters outside waved signs and gave fiery speeches at the gates to Freedom Hall ahead Trump's visit, booing as Air Force One passed overhead for landing.

But their numbers were dwarfed by the long lines of thousands of Trump supporters wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats that snaked around the fairgrounds hours before Trump appeared. Many scorned the demonstrators, calling them “snowflakes.”

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At the end of the night, as Trump supporters flooded out of the area, police went from blocking a group of chanting protesters from entering the front of Freedom Hall to protecting them from a ring of jeering Trump supporters who chanted “USA!” and hurled insults.

“They need to get over it,” said rallygoer Bonnie Rhome. “Accept that he is the president.”

The protests, spearheaded by the liberal group Indivisible Kentucky, have become a fixture at such events, including the recent visit by Vice President Mike Pence to build support for effort to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act.

Many, holding signs such as one reading “Republicare will kill poor, elderly and sick people” and “Stop the lunacy,” said they wanted Obamacare fixed, not replaced by something that might further drive up costs.

“I’m totally against it,” said George Bodina, a Navy veteran who held a handmade sign portraying Trump with a Pinocchio nose. He said Kentucky has benefited from the Affordable Care Act.

Speakers from groups such as Black Lives Matter, Parents for Social Justice and Stand Up Louisville highlighted issues ranging from police shootings to immigrant rights to efforts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Democratic State Rep Jim Wayne told the crowd he thought Trump had a “personality disorder” and was “not equipped to lead this great nation.”

And, as Kentucky emerges as a battleground over efforts to repeal the federal health law, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Bowling Green Republican, undercut Trump's effort to rally support for the effort by announcing he will not vote for it should the legislation even reach the Senate. The proposal is expected to get a vote in the House this week.

"I don't think they have the votes to pass it right now," Paul said, speaking at an event  Monday morning in Louisville.

Paul argues the current legislation doesn't go far enough to repeal Obamacare.

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Meanwhile, supporters of the law argue the stakes are huge in Kentucky, where more than a half-million people have gained health coverage under the law, about 440,000 through Medicaid and another 81,000 through commercial health plans bought through the federal online health exchange, healthcare.gov.

On Monday afternoon, the Metro Council’s Democratic Caucus urged Trump to rethink his approach to repealing Obamacare, saying the law has helped the city’s budget by reducing the number of residents who lack health coverage.

Metro Councilwoman Marianne Butler also said Trump’s proposed federal budget is expected to cost the city around $46 million in funding — a figure that doesn’t even include the reductions Jefferson County Public Schools may face.

But Metro Council’s Republican caucus issued its own statement Monday welcoming Trump to town and backing his plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

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Mayor Greg Fischer weighed in too, asking the president to slow down and “keep his promises” on health care.

“President Trump repeatedly promised to pass a health care plan that would provide all Americans with affordable, quality health care coverage at a lower cost. The President’s plan will cause 24 million Americans to lose their health care coverage,” Fischer said in a statement. “The ACA needs to be improved, but the TrumpCare proposal is not the way to do it.“

Monday night's rally was the second time in nine days the administration sought support in Kentucky for the GOP proposal. Vice President Mike Pence visited Louisville March 11 at a small, invitation-only event to plug the health plan and urge support among Kentucky's congressional delegation.

Contributing: Chris Kenning, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Follow Deborah Yetter on Twitter: @d_yetter

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