President Trump, showcasing his popularity as a law-and-order leader even as House Democrats build their impeachment case that he violated the Constitution, used a visit Monday to Chicago to take on the city’s high homicide rate and its sheltering of illegal immigrants.
In a speech to the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference, the president criticized Chicago as “the worst sanctuary city in America” and slammed police Superintendent Eddie Johnson for not doing his job.
“Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison,” said Mr. Trump, who was accompanied by Attorney General William P. Barr.
Superintendent Johnson boycotted the event. He said he couldn’t abide the president’s values and opposes the administration’s immigration policies.
The president noted the top cop’s absence shortly after taking the podium amid thunderous applause and cheers from police chiefs across the country.
“That’s a very insulting statement after all I’ve done for the police, and I’ve done more than any other president’s ever done for the police,” Mr. Trump said of the superintendent. “Here’s a man that could not bother to show up for a meeting of police chiefs, most respected people in the country, in his hometown, and with the president of the United States.”
He added, “And you know why? It’s because he’s not doing his job.”
Mr. Trump said 565 people were “murdered” in Chicago last year. “Since Eddie Johnson has been police chief, more than 1,500 people have been murdered in Chicago and 13,067 people have been shot.”
Noting that Chicago purports to have some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, the president said, “That doesn’t seem to be working too well, does it?”
The audience interrupted the president several times with loud applause. IACP President Paul Cell called Mr. Trump “the strongest supporter of law enforcement that this profession has ever seen.”
Officer Thomas Thompson of Lubbock, Texas, among the candidates nominated for the association’s police officer of the year award, told Mr. Trump, “Mr. President, thank you for your support of law enforcement, especially in this day and age. That’s no small thing. It matters.”
Superintendent Johnson said the president’s attack confirmed for him that he is “doing the right thing.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot denounced the president’s speech.
“It’s no surprise that @realDonaldTrump brought his insulting, ignorant buffoonery to Chicago,” the mayor tweeted. “Luckily, in this city, we know the truth and we will not let anyone — no matter how high the office — denigrate who we are as a people or our status as a welcoming city.”
She said of the president, “Rather than belittle Chicago’s communities with hateful and dishonest rhetoric, he needs to go back to D.C. and face his fate. President Trump knows as much about policing as he does running a fair and transparent government. I stand by the Superintendent for living up to the values of this great city and its residents.”
It was Mr. Trump’s first visit to the Windy City since his inauguration. He has repeatedly criticized the Democratic bastion as a national embarrassment for its high levels of crime and gun violence.
The president called Chicago the “worst sanctuary city in America.” He said the city “protects criminals at a level few could even imagine” — 1,162 illegal immigrants last year alone who were shielded from federal immigration detainers.
“People like Johnson put criminals and illegal aliens before the citizens of Chicago, and those are his values, and frankly those values to me are a disgrace,” Mr. Trump said. “I want Eddie Johnson to change his values and change them fast.”
With his risk of impeachment rising, the president also turned to actor Jussie Smollett of Chicago, who was accused last winter of staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself and blaming it on Trump supporters. Mr. Smollett was indicted on multiple charges of disorderly conduct, though the charges have since been dropped.
“Then you have the case of this wise guy Jussie Smollett, who beat up … himself,” the president said to uproarious laughter from the police chiefs. “And he said MAGA country did it. That’s a hate crime and a real big scam, just like the impeachment of your president is a scam. Smollett is still trying to get away with it.”
The trip also served to boost Mr. Trump’s campaign coffers for reelection. He attended a big-money fundraiser at his Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago and raked in an estimated $4 million from about 250 guests.
About 3,000 protesters gathered near Trump Tower holding signs, blowing whistles and calling for the president’s impeachment.
Amid the protesters, a man wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat walked in support of Mr. Trump.
“I just don’t understand why the president should be treated like a criminal, especially here in a classic middle-American city,” the unidentified man told the Chicago Tribune.
Since he began his campaign for the presidency in 2015, Mr. Trump has received strong support from law enforcement officials, many of whom clashed with the Obama administration over its perceived support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Police morale reached a low point during Mr. Obama’s final year in office as activists killed officers in several cities.
Mr. Trump reminds police frequently that he has their backs, and he did so again Monday.
“Under this administration, we are once again standing up for law enforcement. We’re condemning anti-police bias in all forms, and we’re giving you the support, resources and the respect — and we have tremendous respect for you — the respect that you deserve,” the president said. “We will keep our streets secure, our cities guarded and our loved ones safe. We will fight violent crime, uphold the peace, enforce the law and, with God as our witness, we will proudly serve, protect and defend the citizens of the United States.
“To all the terrific officers here today, thank you for your unwavering courage, your unbreakable devotion. Today and every day, I vow to stand proudly, loyally and faithfully with the men and women in blue,” the president said.
Mr. Barr will announce a crackdown — the president suggested calling it “The Surge” — within two weeks to target gangs and drug traffickers.
“We’re going to be doing something that’s very dramatic,” Mr. Trump said. “And you’re going to see tremendous results very quickly.”
The president also signed an executive order to establish a Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to provide recommendations to address challenges that burden law enforcement, including homelessness and mental illness. He said the commission “will study best practices to recruit, retrain, hire, train and provide for the health, safety and the well-being of law enforcement officers.”
“We want to take care of our law enforcement officers,” the president said.