President Donald Trump, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday, brought back his biggest campaign hits to support gun rights, attack Democrats and tout his immigration agenda.
Trump spoke at the annual gathering of conservative activists and playing to the crowd, at one point asking if they minded if he went off script, saying his prepared remarks were a little bit "boring."
The crowd often responded with chants of "Lock her up!" ''Build the wall!" and "USA!" just like they used to do on the campaign trail.
Urging the arming of many teachers and school security guards, Trump said Friday the armed officer who didn't stop the gunman who carried out last week's Florida massacre was either a "coward" or "didn't react properly under pressure."
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Departing the White House for the CPAC Conference, Trump told reporters that "when it came time to get in there and do something," Florida deputy Scot Peterson "didn't have the courage or something happened."
"He certainly did a poor job, there's no question about that," Trump said. He repeated his criticism at the conference.
Long supported by the National Rifle Association, the president has sought to maintain his backing among gun rights activists even as he has called for strengthening background checks and raising the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles in the wake of the mass killing.
Turning to this year's elections, Trump said Republicans must not be complacent in the fall midterms, warning of terrible consequences if Democrats take control of Congress.
Trump predicted Democrats would "take away those massive tax cuts," referencing to his signature tax law signed in December, "and they will take away your Second Amendment." Trump then surveyed the audience of conservatives on which issue was more important to them, and listened as the crowd cheered loudly in support of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Basking in the glow of some of his most hard-core supporters, Trump argued that his administration has kept his campaign promises, boasting as he often does that he "had the most successful first year in the history of the presidency."
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And he re-aired themes from his 2016 campaign, citing a "very crooked media, we had a crooked candidate, too, by the way," referencing former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The crowd chanted, "lock her up," a common refrain at Trump campaign rallies.
Trump's speech at CPAC came at the end of a week that included meetings with students and teachers and state and local officials on ways to bolster school safety and address gun violence. Trump said the "evil massacre" of 17 people at a Florida high school last week had "broken our hearts."
Trump said designating schools as "gun-free zones" puts students in "far more danger." He reiterated his push for "gun-adept teachers and coaches" to be able to carry concealed firearms and said it was "time to make our schools a much harder target for attackers — we don't want them in our schools."
If a teacher had been carrying a concealed firearm at the Florida school, "the teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened," Trump said.
Officials announced Thursday that deputy Scot Peterson never went inside to engage the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while the shooting was underway. Peterson has resigned.
"It was a real shot to the police department," Trump said before leaving the White House. "This could have been prevented."
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The president also spent a significant amount of his address on his immigration agenda and attacked "chain migration." He went after Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, an immigration from Uzbekistan who drove a truck through a crowd in lower Manhattan in October and killed eight people. Trump said "22 people came in with" Saipov.
The president then read the lyrics to Oscar Brown Jr.'s 1960s song "The Snake," which tells the tale of a woman who takes in a snake that later bites her. Trump told the audience "to think of this in terms of immigration." The president had previously read the song at his campaign rallies when talking about immigrants who commit crimes in America.
"We’ve gotta change our ways. ... I want merit system," he said. "Because, you know what’s happening? All these companies are coming into our country, they’re all coming into our country. And when they come in, we need people that are gonna work. I’m telling you, we need workers now. We need workers!"
Before diving into the meat of his speech, Trump said he goes to great lengths to hide the bald spot revealed in a recent photo. He turned around onstage and smoothed the back of his famous hair.
He said, "I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks." The crowd cheered as Trump glanced at a monitor and added, "Doesn't look bad. Hey, we're hanging in."
During the 2016 campaign, Trump let a woman tug the hair on top of his head to prove it is attached.
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The president's bald spot was exposed Feb. 2 when he turned away from cameras to climb aboard Air Force One. As Trump climbed the stairs, a wind gust blew aside a flap of hair.
Meanwhile, Trump blamed ailing Republican Sen. John McCain for impeding efforts to repeal "Obamacare" in a speech in front of conservative activists.
But he refused to mention the cancer-stricken senator by name.
Trump told the crowd, "I don't want to be controversial so I won't use his name, O.K."
McCain's daughter, Meghan, told Politico's Women Rule podcast earlier this month that the president had called her last year to say he would back off from criticizing her father.
She said, "I don't believe he would go there again."
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Also Friday, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against North Korea. Trump addressed the designations in his speech, saying that are the "heaviest sanctions ever imposed," but he did not elaborate beyond that.