YUMA, Arizona (Reuters) – Days after his first rally since the coronavirus pandemic drew a smaller-than-expected crowd, President Donald Trump touted the construction of a border wall as he visited Arizona on Tuesday despite rising numbers of virus cases in the state.
Trump, who narrowly won Arizona in 2016, is looking to defend his foothold in the state as opinion polls show the Republican president trailing Democrat Joe Biden, and Republican Senator Martha McSally also behind Democratic challenger Mark Kelly.
Trump commemorated the 200th mile of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico during his official visit. Building the wall was a key promise of Trump’s 2016 campaign that helped propel him to the White House.
“My administration has done more than any administration in history to secure our southern border,” Trump said at a roundtable event in Yuma with border and law enforcement officials before a tour of the newly constructed wall.
Later, in Phoenix, he will meet with young people at the Dream City Church. Trump relies in part on the support of evangelical Christians for his political strength and has touted a re-opening of churches, despite concerns about the spread of the virus among gatherings of large groups.
The trip is Trump’s third this year to Arizona, which had a record increase of more than 3,500 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday. The state also saw record hospitalizations, record patients in intensive care, and a record number of patients on ventilators.
The president and his advisers have largely dismissed concerns about holding campaign events as the virus continues to spread in some parts of the United States.
Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday brought thousands of people into an arena against the advice of health professionals, and several members of his campaign staff who were there have tested positive for the virus.
Arizona has emerged as one of the United States’ new coronavirus hotspots since Republican Governor Doug Ducey lifted a stay-at-home order on May 15.
Biden called Trump’s visit reckless as Arizona passed 50,000 confirmed cases and 1,300 deaths related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“Yet once again, instead of doing the hard work needed to solve the public health and economic crises facing America, Donald Trump remains focused on his expensive, ineffective, and wasteful ‘wall’ on our Southern Border,” he said in a statement.
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