(PHOENIX) — President Donald Trump greeted Marines and border patrol agents in Yuma, Arizona Tuesday afternoon ahead of a campaign rally that comes amid lingering fallout from his reaction to violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month.
The president viewed equipment used in border protection, shook hands and posed for pictures at Air Station Yuma, just before leaving for Phoenix, where he’ll speak at the city’s convention center at 7 p.m.
Trump’s response to Charlottesville, specifically that “both sides” contributed to the deadly violence, was criticized for seeming to equate white supremacists and the counterprotesters. This has led to plans by several groups to protest outside of the rally Tuesday evening.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton appealed to Trump to postpone the rally, which is being organized by his presidential campaign committee.
“I am disappointed that President Trump has chosen to hold a campaign rally as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville,” Stanton said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is my hope that more sound judgment prevails and that he delays his visit.”
There was speculation that Trump might announce a presidential pardon of the state’s former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt in July, but such a possibility was rejected by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Arizona.
“There will no discussion of that today and no action will be taken on that at any point today,” said Sanders. Arpaio told ABC News that he had not been invited to the rally, which he said he doesn’t view as a sign he’s no longer being considered for a pardon, but rather that tonight’s venue is not the right setting.
Trump’s visit to Arizona puts attention on his relationships with the two Republican senators from that state, John McCain and Jeff Flake. Flake is facing re-election next year.
On Twitter on Thursday, Trump bashed Flake as “toxic” and a “non-factor in the Senate.” He also tweeted that it’s “great to see” GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward running against Flake — an unusual move, since a president typically does not side against an incumbent of his own party in a primary contest.
Ward will attend the rally, but her campaign declined to say whether an endorsement from Trump is expected.
“We’ll see what happens,” Ward’s campaign press secretary Jennifer Lawrence told ABC News.
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