President Donald Trump's event Thursday, which was supposed to be about tax reform, swiftly turned into a rant about immigration policy and voter fraud, as the president tossed out his script — literally.
"This was going to be my remarks," he said in West Virginia, holding up a piece of paper after his freewheeling comments. "It would have taken about two minutes, but, to hell with it," Trump said as he tossed the paper in the air.
"Reading off the first paragraph, I said, 'This is boring.' Come on. Tell it like it is," he added.
Trump told horror stories that he tied to the U.S. immigration system as he pushed for change to immigration laws. He told a story about young girls never seeing their parents again after they get "cut up" by members of criminal gangs run by immigrants. He pointed back to comments he made in 2015 opening his campaign, in which he suggested "rapists" came from Mexico, to make an unsubstantiated claim that unprecedented rape was taking place as a so-called caravan of people moved toward the U.S. recently.
"Remember my opening remarks in Trump Tower when I opened, everybody said, 'Oh he was so tough.' I used the word 'rape,'" Trump said. "And yesterday it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody's ever seen before. They don't want to mention that. So we have to change our laws."
Trump claimed Democrats "like" mass immigration because they think immigrants will vote for them. He revived a false claim that "in many places like California, the same person votes many times."
Photo credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
"They always like to say, 'Oh, that's a conspiracy theory.' It's not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people. And it's very hard because the state guards their records."
Trump's remarks about California prompted an immediate response from top-tier Democratic politicians in the state, including the front-runner in the state's gubernatorial election, Gavin Newsom.
California's top elections official, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, said: "It is sad the president continues to recycle the same old lies. Frankly, it is tiring to have a conspiracy theorist in the White House."
Trump has been emboldened in recent weeks amid the departure of multiple top aides and a renewed push to appeal to his voting base. Recently, the president has announced tariffs on China and directed National Guard troops to go to the U.S. border with Mexico, two actions to follow through on campaign pledges.
Trump has also repeatedly attacked Amazon, one of his favorite punching bags, for what he calls preferential treatment relative to other retailers.
The president was followed Thursday by West Virginia lawmakers and business leaders who talked about how families benefited from the GOP tax plan passed in December. Republican leaders have attempted to sell the tax legislation, the party's signature achievement of 2017, ahead of November's crucial midterm elections. Trump and some key Republican lawmakers have been pushing for a "phase two" of tax reform, which would include making individual tax cuts permanent, among other provisions.
More inflammatory issues such as immigration have apparently resonated more with GOP voters.
Trump touched on the tax legislation briefly at the start of his remarks before moving to other topics. He criticized West Virginia's vulnerable Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin for opposing the tax plan. The president was flanked by Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, also a Republican, who are both trying to unseat Manchin in November.
— CNBC's Jeff Daniels contributed to this report.