Sessions defends Trump's power to pardon without consulting Justice Dept
After divisive rally, Trump calls for unity
President Trump on Wednesday called for the nation to come together in "shared humanity" and "citizenship" one day after stoking deep divisions on race and politics during a fiery campaign speech.
"It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us," Trump told a crowd of veterans at an American Legion conference in Reno, Nev.
Sticking largely to his prepared remarks, the president pointed to the military as a positive example for all Americans when it comes to patriotism, hard work and common purpose, saying "we are one people, with one home and one flag."
"We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck or the party of our politics," Trump said. "We are defined by our shared humanity, our citizenship in this magnificent nation and by the love that fills our hearts."
The president's starkly different messages have given the nation whiplash over the last 24 hours, renewing questions about his true thoughts about this month's deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Trump began Tuesday night's campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Ariz., with similar comments to those he made in Reno, then broke into an extended, unscripted rant blaming the news media for the backlash against his response to the white supremacist rally in Virginia.
At Tuesday night's rally, he pulled out and read a paper copy of his prepared remarks from Aug. 12, the day a woman was killed when a motorist with reported ties to white supremacists allegedly plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters.
But the president omitted his claim that there was blame "on many sides" for the violence.
Trump cleaned up his comments on Charlottesville in a statement two days later, but then bulldozed over that effort the following day when he claimed "both sides" were to blame for the violence, remarks that equated the actions of groups like the neo-Nazis and the KKK with groups protesting them at the Charlottesville rally.
The president doubled down on his rally comments Wednesday morning.
"Last night in Phoenix I read the things from my statements on Charlottesville that the Fake News Media didn't cover fairly. People got it!" he tweeted before departing for the American Legion gathering.
During his stop in Nevada, however, Trump appeared to be in a more magnanimous mood.
He thanked two of his GOP critics, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.), for attending the speech on his efforts to reform the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs.
"We are people who love. We are people with heart. We are people who adore. We are people who are great - there is no country like the United States of America. We have no division too deep for us to heal," the president said, concluding his remarks.
In Phoenix, Trump was eager to air his grievances against a wide array of critics, including members of his own party.
At the rally, he blasted Arizona's two Republican senators for opposing him on key issues, openly flouting the advice of his aides, whom he said told him, "please, please ... don't mention any names."
In a clear message to Sen. John McCain, who cast the decisive vote against an ObamaCare repeal bill, Trump said, "you have some great senators, but we were one vote away from repealing it."
He also attacked Sen. Jeff Flake as "weak on borders, weak on crime," and claimed "nobody knows who the hell he is.
"And now, see, I haven't mentioned any names," Trump added playfully. "So now, everybody's happy."
He couldn't resist calling out Flake by name Wednesday morning, though, tweeting "Phoenix crowd last night was amazing - a packed house. I love the Great State of Arizona. Not a fan of Jeff Flake, weak on crime & border!"
In addition to those attacks, Trump on Tuesday night floated the possibility of shutting down the government to secure funding for a border wall and renewed his call to end the filibuster - comments sure to give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) heartburn.
He spent little time talking about his legislative priorities for the fall - tax reform and infrastructure - which some Republicans called a missed opportunity.
"It certainly doesn't help," said GOP strategist Doug Heye. "Between bringing [Charlottesville] up again and bringing up Flake and McCain, it's hard to see how this helps him enact his agenda."
Heye, who served as a top aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said Trump would be better served talking about positive economic indicators and other topics that have appeal beyond his base voters.
"That would give him a platform to say why tax reform and repealing ObamaCare fits into that agenda," he said.
Many Republicans wish Trump would move on from Charlottesville, an incident that resulted in one of the worst stretches of his presidency.
But Trump seems to believe it's an issue that animates his core supporters.
"I didn't want to bore you, because you understand where I'm coming from. You people understand," he said Tuesday night. "The media can attack me. But where I draw the line is when they attack you, which is what they do. When they attack the decency of our supporters."
In another move that would excite his base but anger others, Trump suggested he plans to pardon Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., who was convicted of defying a court order to stop immigration patrols that were deemed to be racially biased.
Arpaio, a longtime Trump supporter, said he would stick with the president "pardon or no pardon."
"I have great deal of respect for him," he said Wednesday on Fox Business network. "I'm with him to the end, as long as he's the president, I will support him."
This story was updated at 4:03 p.m.