(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump defended his immigration policies at an event in Nevada aimed at boosting the prospects of a Republican senator facing a difficult re-election fight, saying that without a tough stance on the border the U.S. would be “overrun.”
Trump held a closed-door fundraiser in the Las Vegas area on Saturday for Senator Dean Heller, and afterward addressed the Nevada Republican Party Convention. He was next scheduled to attend a tax-focused event, six months after the passage of major tax-cutting legislation.
“On immigration, we have to be very strong,” Trump said. “We’re being very tough at the border.”
If the U.S. shows any “weakness,” he said, “we will be overrun.”
“If I got up here today and said ‘we want everybody to come,’ we would have millions and millions of people pouring throughout our country,” Trump said.
The trip comes as Trump’s administration is reeling from chaos caused by a policy of separating children from their parents who illegally cross the U.S. border from Mexico.
“We do a much better job while at the same time maintaining a MUCH stronger Border!” Trump said earlier in a Twitter message before boarding Air Force One, comparing his administration’s policies to that of the Obama administration. Trump also retweeted a link to his weekly address slamming “Democrat-supported loopholes” on immigration law.
The president went further in his speech, linking support for Democratic candidates to support for Latin gangs like MS-13. A vote for Democrats is “really a vote for crime,” Trump said.
The president appeared to reverse the controversial family-separation policy earlier this week after outcry from the public and bipartisan backlash from lawmakers. He signed an executive order on Wednesday that he said would end family separations, but his administration has struggled to explain what will happen to more than 2,300 children already separated from their parents.
Multiple inquiries into the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have been met with silence.
Trump added to the turmoil on Friday, though, with a tweet urging Republican lawmakers to stop “wasting their time” by trying to pass an immigration bill until after the November elections. He said a “Red Wave” of Republicans winning in the mid-terms would help bolster his Congressional majorities, despite public polling that indicates otherwise.
Trump’s visit to Nevada is aimed at protecting the Republican senator seen most at risk of losing his seat to a Democrat this fall. There are nine Republican-held seats on the ballot, and the only two other regarded as competitive -- Arizona and Tennessee -- are held by senators who are retiring.
Representing a state that Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016, Heller will face off against Democratic U.S. Representative Jacky Rosen, 60, who was elected to Congress in 2016 and joined the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus.
Trump on Saturday dubbed the Democrat “Wacky Jacky.” She quickly responded on Twitter, “is that the best you’ve got?”
Heller, 58, won a reprieve from a contested primary when Trump successfully persuaded rival Republican Danny Tarkanian, a perennial candidate for elected office in Nevada, to drop out of the Senate race in March and run for a House seat instead.
The western state’s tilt toward Democrats in recent years gives the opposition party reason for some optimism. An April 12-19 poll by the Nevada Independent and the Mellman Group, the most recent one available, showed Heller with support of 40 percent of likely voters and Rosen with 39 percent, a statistical dead heat.
Heller narrowly won his seat in 2012 against Democrat Shelley Berkley, who was hampered by ethics questions. He’s struggled this election cycle to thread the needle with voters in both parties whose support he’ll need to win, including reversals on the Republican-led effort to replace Obamacare.
The Carson City, Nevada, lawmaker ultimately voted for a Republican replacement measure to former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, a decision that Rosen is expected to try to exploit in a year when health care is one of the top issues with voters.
Trump’s focus on his immigration policies come as he heads to a state with a heavy concentration of Latino voters. In the previous midterm election, in 2014, 17 percent of eligible voters in the Silver State were Latino, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington, a higher percentage than in the U.S. as a whole.
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