Trump’s White House personnel shuffle eclipses his own message on gang violence

BRENTWOOD, N.Y. — President Donald Trump traveled to Suffolk County Friday to address the gang violence problem that has racked this and neighboring communities.

But Trump's own personnel changes, which he had clearly contemplated before he gave his speech here, ended up eclipsing his message significantly.

The White House had invited law enforcement personnel exclusively to the speech, which was intended to address the challenge of fighting the MS-13 gang and drug cartel.

When President Trump entered the theater at Suffolk County Community College around 2:15 p.m., the 300 officers in the audience and seated behind him on the stage gave him a standing ovation.

Then, something unusual happened, relative to most speeches, though not, perhaps, to this president. Trump never invited his audience to sit down. So they didn't, as he continued to speak for about 25 minutes.

The topics sometimes spoke directly to the assembled law enforcement professionals. "We will support our police like they've never been supported before," the president said, to thunderous applause from the audience on its feet.

Trump also spent some time addressing the threat of MS-13.

"We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you and we will deport you," he said, to an ovation from an already standing audience.

Many other topics came up in the speech, as the president varied between reading from a prepared script on his teleprompter and ad-libbing his own observations and opinions.

As he started talking about what he called the need for Congress to approve more funding to fight gang violence, he veered into opining about Friday's early morning defeat of the repeal of Obamacare in the U.S. Senate.

"They couldn't approve a healthcare bill," Trump said, adding, "Boy, oh boy. Can you believe that?"

The president also used his speech to criticize Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama and even Bill de Blasio.

"I know some cops who can't do their jobs because they have a pathetic mayor," said President Trump, to laughs and applause. "Thinking of someone in particular?" he asked to further laughs.

In that manner, he only made references to Democratic elected officials, never mentioning them by name.

However, he singled out one Republican official -- the only one of the many he recognized from the dais who was not actually in the room.

"John Kelly is doing an excellent job at Homeland Security," said the president. "He's one of our stars."

Less than an hour and a half after finishing his speech, Trump announced in person while deplaning from Air Force One and through a set of tweets shortly thereafter, that he'd appointed Kelly to be White House chief of staff, having accepted Reince Priebus's resignation.

It was an awkward situation, particularly since Priebus had come to Long Island on Air Force One with the president, along with newly appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Scaramucci has made it profanely clear, literally, in statements to The New Yorker magazine, that he is no fan of Priebus, and that he'd wanted Priebus out.

Scarmucci got his wish on Friday, but at the expense of the president's message of law enforcement support getting lost.

Trump's audience of law enforcement officers didn't seem to mind the wide variety of messages contained in the speech that felt more like a campaign message than the policy address that had been intended.

They laughed when the president said that he didn't mind if they chose not to protect an arrestee's head when an officer is placing an arrestee into a police vehicle. They also gave President Trump a rousing round of applause after he pledged to "Make America great again," and concluded with "God bless the United States of America."

Afterward, the Suffolk County Police Department issued a statement in response to Trump's comment encouraging officers to not use care when handling people under arrest.

"We do not and will not tolerate roughing up prisoners," the statement said.

The police commissioner said before the speech that he appreciated that the president was giving it. Commissioner Timothy Sini also said, however, that action was going to be the true test of dedication to fighting the problem of gang violence.

"Look," Commissioner Sini said, "we have specific grant" applications to the federal government pending that could "address the gang issue."

He called on Congress, before which he'd testified recently, to approve monies to continue fighting MS-13.