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The auto industry, Gov. Whitmer’s potholes, and even John Dingell’s funeral were all fair game for Trump during event at Kellogg Arena The Detroit News

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Battle Creek — President Donald Trump told a Wednesday night campaign rally that Democrats were "trying to nullify" the votes of tens of millions of people as the U.S. House cast historic votes to impeach him.

"It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached," Trump said to an estimated crowd of 5,400 at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. "The country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong."

Trump took the stage at about 8:04 p.m. in Michigan, where he won by 10,704 votes in 2016, for a Christmas-themed campaign rally. In Washington, D.C, the Democratic-controlled House approved the first article of impeachment against Trump at about 8:35 p.m.

The impeachment votes played out as Trump was on stage. At one point, he began talking about the "abuse of office" vote tally, noting that "every single Republican" had voted against impeachment. Trump called Democrats' push to impeach him a "political suicide march."

"They think the Washington swamp should be able to veto the results of an election," Trump said.

Two of the Michigan Democrats voting to impeach him were Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills, who flipped Republican-leaning districts in the 2018 election.

But it was Trump's attack against U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and her lhusband John, the legendary congressman, that drew quick condemnations from Democrats.

Trump took a poke at the late congressman who died in February, suggesting the longtime Catholic might be in hell.

Trump said he gave U.S. Rep. John Dingell the "A+" treatment in terms of funeral honors earlier this year. In return, Debbie Dingell extended to Trump the "most profuse thank you" for the funeral honors and said her husband was "looking down" on them, the president said.

"I said that's OK. Don't worry about it. Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know. Maybe," Trump said to a mixture of groans, laughter and applause from the crowd. "But let's assume he's looking down." 

Dingell responded on Twitter: "My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder."

Trump's Wednesday rally took place in Calhoun County, one of 12 counties in Michigan that voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2012 but for Trump in 2016.

Those in the crowd braved 15-degree temperatures outside a week before Christmas, some waiting for hours before the doors opened.

Inside, Trump supporters waved red and green campaign signs and chanted "four more years." One attendee was dressed as Santa Claus. Another, Tom Lyons of Battle Creek, wore a sweater with Trump's face on it and the words "Make Christmas Great Again."

During his speech, Trump slammed the media, blasted his political opponents, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and touted his efforts to improve the state's economy. He said the automobile companies are "thriving." And he said his administration had made the largest ever investment in the nation's military.

Trump highlighted a nearly $1.5 billion investment Ford Motor Co. is making in Michigan.

"I have the greatest economy in the history of this country," Trump said during the rally.

Democrats have noted the auto industry recovered under Obama and have criticized plant closings, such as the shutdown of a General Motors Warren transmission factory in Warren.

Trump said Michigan has had "the best year it's ever had." But he criticized Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who took office at the beginning of 2019. He referenced her proposal to increase the state's 26.3-cent-per-gallon gas tax by 45 cents to fund road improvements, which the Legislature never voted on.

“She’s not fixing those potholes,” Trump said.

The president later told the crowd he wasn't a big fan of Michigan's former GOP governor, Rick Snyder, or a big fan of Whitmer, whom he described as "the one who can’t fix the potholes."

About six hours before Trump spoke in Battle Creek, Whitmer told reporters in Lansing that she supported Trump's impeachment. Whitmer focused her explanation on Slotkin, the Holly Democrat who is a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, who announced her support for impeaching Trump on  Monday.

Whitmer said Slotkin had brought "due diligence" to the issue, and the governor said she had admiration for Slotkin.

Whitmer called Wednesday a "historic day" for the country and said the "whole world" was watching Michigan with Trump's rally in the state.

On Wednesday night, Michigan's U.S. House members voted 8-6 along party lines to impeach Trump over his handling of foreign aid to Ukraine. Michigan's seven House Democrats and independent U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township, backed the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

All six Michigan Republicans voted against impeachment.

Impeachment was front and center on the minds of many outside Trump's rally in the Kellogg Arena on Wednesday. Phillip Cotter of Clio said as far he was concerned, "the abuse" was on the Democratic side.

“I am not saying the things that he does are perfect because they are not," Cotter said. "But the fact of the matter is I elected a knife fighter to get the criminals out of our government. I am sick and tired of what’s been going on."

There were protesters both inside and outside Trump's rally. A protester briefly disrupted Wednesday’s speech, prompting Trump to suggest the demonstration would be the focus of the “Fake News."

Republicans want to ensure that Trump's 2020 re-election campaign attracts Michigan voters who backed Trump in 2016 but stayed home in 2018.

Trump won Michigan in 2016 with his smallest margin of victory among the states in defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton. Democrats made significant gains in Michigan in 2018. Whitmer won the governor's office, while Democrats flipped two Republican seats in the U.S. House.

Trump told the crowd that the 2020 election is going to be "close."

Before the rally, Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump's campaign, said the campaign plans to win the states it captured in 2016 and target additional states that went for Hillary Clinton, such as Nevada and Minnesota.

“We are going to win Michigan, no question about it," Murtaugh predicted.

But Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said the party's efforts worked in 2018 in Michigan and would work again in 2020.

Barnes said Trump was in Michigan in "a desperate attempt to cover for his broken promises and rally his dwindling supporters in a state he sees slipping through his fingers."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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