President Donald Trump travels to Arizona on Tuesday to visit the nation's southern border and to rally thousands of supporters for a two-day trip which critics fear could further inflame racial tensions with the state's large Hispanic population.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton last week implored Trump not to pardon controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio during his Arizona visit arguing that it would cause further division in a time of mourning after the violence at a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The visit comes at a politically turbulent time for the president during which he has trashed both of Arizona's Republican senators.
On Friday, he fired his chief strategist Steve Bannon, a highly divisive ultra-conservative accused of promoting anti-immigrant policies in the White House, and last week he touched off a firestorm by saying that "both sides" were to blame for violence in Charlottesville.
Trump is scheduled to tour a Marine Corps base along the U.S.-Mexico border, watch demonstrations of U.S. Customs drones, a boat and a truck, and meet with Marines.
While at the Marine Corps facility, Trump can renew his vow to build a wall and highlight other tougher immigration policies, a favorite among his supporters. Later, his political rally in Phoenix provides the atmospherics of the campaign trail itself. This will be Trump's eighth political rally since taking office. His 2020 re-election campaign pays for and organizes the events, carefully screening attendees.
Democratic leaders and other Trump opponents plan protests and marches outside the rally to decry his immigration policies and his comments about Charlottesville. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton had implored the president to postpone the rally to allow time for the country to heal after Charlottesville.
Neither Sens Jeff Flake nor Sen. John McCain, who is undergoing cancer treatment, will join Trump at his events in the state. Flake has been on tour promoting a book that says the Republican Party's embrace of Trump has left conservatism withering.
Flake has been a frequent target of Trump's wrath. Last week, Trump tweeted that Flake is "toxic" and said it is "great to see" Kelli Ward running against him in the GOP primary for the seat, which is up for re-election next year. That has sparked talk of Trump possibly endorsing Ward from the stage Tuesday night.
"Trump is throwing salt on the wounds he tore open, traveling to Arizona to promote his divisive agenda and potentially pardon one of our nation’s most notorious symbols of racism and bigotry: former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio," Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez wrote in an opinion column published Tuesday.
"Instead of catching criminals, Arpaio tore families apart and built what one of his own deputies called a “wall of distrust” between the police and the Latino community," he wrote.
In a statement last week Mayor Stanton said he was "disappointed" that the president had scheduled a campaign rally in his city "as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville," and asked him to delay the event.
"If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio then it will be clear that his true intent is to enflame emotions and further divide our nation," he added.
Stanton, who has been in office since 2012, said he hopes "sound judgment prevails."
Trump has hinted several times over the past few days that he is considering a pardon for Arpaio, 85, an anti-immigrant hawk who was convicted in late July of criminal contempt after he defied a judge's 2011 court order to refrain from racially profiling Latinos during patrols.
“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” the president said Sunday, during a conversation with Fox News at his club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”
During the trial prosecutors argued that Arpaio intentionally violated the court order to stop his officers from detaining people simply on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally. As a result of the police tactics, some Latinos who were citizens or legal residents were wrongly detained.