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Trump hits media, promises gov't shutdown over border wall funding

Inside the Phoenix Convention Center, President Donald Trump rallied more than 5,000 supporters Tuesday night, spending almost a third of his time complaining about the mass media and how news organizations covered his response to an outbreak of violence in Chartlottesville, Va., last week.  

Outside, thousands of people protested the president's speech, some focusing on rumors that Trump was considering pardoning former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal judge in July. Others protested the White House's plans for immigration, and the construction of a border wall. 

In a speech that lasted around one hour and 17 minutes, Trump spoke at length about his comments following Charlottesville, in which a protest over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert  E. Lee turned into a violent rally where neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches chanted "blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us." 

Trump read chunks of his statements made following the melee, arguing that he spoke out "forcefully" against "bigotry and violence." 

However, the media refused to report his statements, he said, because members of the media, including dozens of reporters standing on risers in the center of the crowd, were "sick people." 

"You know where my heart is," Trump said. 

"You were there from the start, you’ve been there every day since, and believe me, Arizona, I will never forget it," Trump said. An estimate of the crowd tallied it above 5,000 at 5:30 p.m., but police and fire officials referred questions about the number of people to the White House. As with previous Trump appearances in Phoenix, half of the hall was curtained off to make the room smaller.

After Trump hammered at the media, he said he was frustrated with negotiation efforts with Canada and Mexico to change the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying that he was more likely to end the deal. 

He also laid into "obstructionist Democrats" for standing in the way of funding a border wall and said that he would be willing to defund the government to force Democrats to fund the wall. 

His crowd Tuesday night numbered in the thousands but did not completely fill the hall at the convention center, half of which was curtained off.

Trump did not announce a new policy focus, instead, he announced plans to continue working on his agenda, and at one point attacked Arizona's GOP senators as well as his Democratic opponents.

Trump spoke for more than an hour, laying into the media for coverage of his comments on Charlottesville, Virginia 

As Trump hammered at the media, a supporter yelled out, "Next topic. Enough about the media. Let's hear about Yuma." Another supporter yelled "What about Arpaio?" 

Early last week, it seemed possible that Trump would pardon the pugnacious ex-lawman after the president told Fox News that he was "seriously considering" doing so. However, earlier Tuesday, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that he wouldn't discuss the issue that night. 

But, the president seemed determine to flirt around its edges, asking to raucous cheers, "Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?"

"Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? He should have a jury, but you know what, I'll make a prediction," he said.  

"I think he's going to be just fine, all right? But I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe can feel very good," he said. 

Trump pivoted to health care and Arizona's two Republican senators, going after both Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake. McCain became the focus of his ire for his "one vote," referring to McCain's deciding vote against the so-called "skinny repeal" vote that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. 

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"We were just one vote away from victory after seven years of everybody proclaiming: repeal and replace," Trump said. "One vote." The crowd responded, chanting "drain the swamp." 

Trump said that his advisors had told him not the mention any names, "So I won't. I won't folks," Trump said. "One vote away. I will not mention any names. Very presidential," he said. It was clear that the crowd knew exactly who Trump was talking about. 

Trump turned to Flake. "Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator who is weak on borders, weak on crime," he said. "Nobody knows who the hell he is. And now, see. I haven't mentioned any names, so everybody's happy," Trump said. 

Trump promised that the nation would thrive, adding "Arizona will thrive and our beloved nation will succeed like never ever before," Trump said. 

Before the rally, Sherry Petermann, 64, said that she wanted to hear "that we're gong to bring our country back together," she said. "There's too much division." 

"I want to hear that he loves us. I know he does. Everyone here knows he does. But tonight, we need to hear it," said Pam Watson, 62, from Tucson. 

"I don't feel like this is the right opportunity to pardon Sheriff Joe," said Taylor Larsen, 20. "There's a lot of people outside that would upset and I don't want to see anyone get hurt. A pardon's probably going to happen, but I don't want to see it tonight. I want him to, but not tonight." 

Brent Bretz, a 35-year old Army veteran said that he "kind of came here just to listen." A double-amputee, Bretz served as an infantryman and sniper in the Iraq War. "I don't have anything in particular I want to hear. I'm still trying to figure out if I support him." 

While Trump hammered at the media for coverage of his comments following Charlottesville, Taylor Larsen said that "I do think his comments after Charlottesville contributed to all this. So I'm hoping he brings everyone together."

As Trump spoke, Teri Orsburn, 58, began protesting against the president. She whirled a purple scarf in the air as she was escorted out of the room. 

"I am here to protest everything about this man and his administration. I am here to stand up for democracy. Everything he does is straight out of Hitler's playbook. He's a racist and he's out and proud," Orsburn said. "He has trampled on the Constitution. He hates women, minorities, he is trying to incite violence against the press. And his administration is lining its pockets."

TucsonSentinel.com’s Rebekah Zemansky, Joe Watson and Hannah Cook contributed to this report.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

President Donald Trump speaks in Phoenix on Aug. 23.