President-elect Donald Trump brought his USA Thank You Tour to Orlando on Friday evening as allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election swirled mere days before Electoral College members will cast ballots to formally elect the nation’s 45th president.
Trump was greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters just hours after both President Barack Obama and Trump’s former opponent in the election, Hillary Clinton, each spoke for the first time publicly about allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.
Trump did not respond to their remarks and made no mention of Russia in his speech.
In a news conference earlier on Friday, Obama said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had to have known about the email hacking that created upheaval in the Democratic Party and dogged Clinton’s campaign.
“Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” Obama said in his year-end news conference.
In addition, news broke Friday afternoon that the FBI agrees with the CIA that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win the election.
Obama’s assertion and the FBI corroborating the CIA’s conclusion followed comments from Clinton on Thursday night in which she charged that Putin “himself directed the covert cyberattacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.”
Trump supporters attending the speech at the Central Florida Fairgrounds were not having any of it.
Many Trump supporters declined to comment on Russia and allegations of elections-hacking, but they were eager to speak about Trump’s other policy points.
Kat Gates-Skipper, a longtime member of the Republican Party in Florida and an elector for the state, served as Trump’s veterans outreach coordinator in Florida and introduced him at one of several Central Florida Trump campaign rallies. She said she hopes Trump will begin early in his administration to focus on veterans -- especially when it comes to suicide prevention.
“We need a 24-hour hotline manned by an actual person,” she said. “You have 22 to 23 veterans committing suicide every day. Our veterans have been on the back burner for too long.”
Ron Sotomayor, of Orlando, said he used to be a “flaming liberal” -- until he realized Trump was “fearless.”
Wearing a shirt that said “#OrlandoUnited,” the slogan of support for those killed in the Pulse nightclub shootings nearly six months ago, Sotomayor noted how his life has been affected by terrorism.
“I was in Paris last year for the attacks there,” he said. “My son’s best friend died here in Orlando. We need to do something about terrorism.”
Trump, he said, isn’t perfect. And that makes him the perfect person to tackle national security.
“He’s fearless, and if you’re fearless it’s OK to make mistakes,” Sotomayor added.
Mariah Bater, 21, of Orlando wore a red dress, a tiara and her “Miss American Patriot” sash as she handed out “Women for Trump” signs inside the event’s entrance. Her hope, she said, is that Trump will tackle the drug problem plaguing the U.S.
Bater volunteers with a group called the Victoria’s Voice Foundation, which works to get the drug naloxone into the hands of law enforcement officers in Florida.
“If we had more secure borders, we may not have as much of a drug problem in our country,” Bater said. “Trump has said he will help with that, and I believe he will.”
Wenli Cummings arrived at the event with a group of Chinese-American Trump supporters. She and her group have been active in Florida in supporting Trump, flying banners over his events and drawing his attention. The group, which consists of between 20 to 30 people, was invited to sit in the VIP section at Friday’s event.
Cummings said she hopes Trump makes it a priority to increase the “competitive environment” in the U.S. She also said she knows a lot of Chinese-American pro-Trump mothers who voted for him because they are concerned about the so-called transgender bathroom issue: that men who identify as women and vice versa could use bathrooms that coincide with the gender with which they identify.
“A lot of mothers are concerned about this,” she said. “They are worried for their children.”
After Friday night’s event, Trump was expected to travel to his part-time Palm Beach home, Mar-a-Lago. He heads to another Thank You Tour event Saturday in Alabama, and then will return to Palm Beach Saturday evening to spend Christmas there.
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