LOUISVILLE — Speaking before a packed audience Monday, President Donald Trump didn’t once respond to FBI Director James Comey, who spent the day testifying about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and confirming, for the first time publicly, that there is an investigation into the connections between Trump associates and Russian operatives.
The event, which saw Trump return to the campaign trail for a confidence-infusing rally, capped one of the most consequential days of his presidency.
Though Trump has yet to respond personally to Comey, all eyes in the White House were on Capitol Hill Monday, where, in addition to Comey’s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, another hearing kicked off the process to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
“I urge members of both parties to swiftly approve his nomination,” Trump said Monday, his only comment on what happened to the Hill.
By not commenting on Comey, Trump was also staying mum on his unfounded claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. Comey said Monday that there was no evidence found related to Trump’s claim, leading Democrats to use the hours of airtime to slam the President.
But Trump didn’t take the bait, instead focusing on his health care overhaul, which could go to the floor as early as Thursday. At one point, Trump blamed the media for making it more difficult to pass the reform.
“Wouldn’t it be great if they told the truth about Obamacare,” Trump said about reporters. “It would be so wonderful for the people of this country because it would just sail right through. Our plan would sail right through.”
Trump said Thursday’s vote was Republican’s “chance to end Obamacare and the Obamacare catastrophe and begin delivering the reforms our people deserve.”
As Trump told it Monday, health care reform was the only thing standing in the way of ending trade deals and tax reform.
“Oh, I am looking forward to these trade deals,” Trump said, hanging on the “oh.” “We are going to do something with NAFTA you are going to be very, very impressed with.”
The most off-message Trump went all night was when he mentioned former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who notably declined to stand for the national anthem during the 2016 season and has yet to be picked up by an NFL team.
The President, citing reports that NFL owners don’t want to get a negative tweet from him if they pick Kaepernick up, happily took credit.
“It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” he said. “Can you believe that?”
While Trump didn’t mention Comey, the White House tried to distance the Trump campaign from some of the campaign advisers in question and argued that the investigation into 2016 wiretapping and surveillance wasn’t finished.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also stood behind a series of comments from Obama administration officials who said they saw no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
On his personal Twitter account, Trump slammed any talk of connections between his 2016 campaign and Russia before Monday’s hearing.
“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” Trump wrote, referring to the director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama. He later added, “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
Trump’s main goal on Monday appeared to be to sell his health care plan.
Trump was joined at the event by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was roundly booed when he was introduced before Trump.
Trump, minutes after McConnell was booed, urged his supporters, “I want you to give him a nice hand because he is on our side.” McConnell emerged from backstage to take the praise, giving a double thumbs up — a Trump standard — to the President.
One Kentucky Republican, however, was not at Trump’s rally: Sen. Rand Paul, a fervent critic of the Republican bill.
Trump looked to quell tensions between the White House and Paul, telling the audience that he happens to “like him.”
“He is a good guy. And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed in some form so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can’t do until this happens,” Trump said.
This is the second White House visit to Kentucky in nine days to push for the health care plan.
“We’re happy to have him in Kentucky. He’s very popular,” Paul told CNN last week. “I’m with the President on the repeal part. We’re still apart somewhat on replacement.”
Vice President Mike Pence visited Louisville for an event with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin earlier this month to push for the health care overhaul.