Trump, at ND rally, says keeping Senate in GOP hands 'the most important thing' after Kennedy retirement

President Trump praised retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as "a very special guy" and "a great man" at a rally in North Dakota Wednesday evening before imploring GOP voters to keep the Senate in Republican hands this coming November.

Trump told the crowd of approximately 6,000 people at Fargo's Scheels Arena that he was "very honored" Kennedy chose to retire while Trump was in office because "he felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy."

Trump did not indicate whom he would nominate to replace the 82-year-old Kennedy, but said he hoped his pick would serve on the Supreme Court for "40 years, 45 years."

Trump was in Fargo to endorse U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Republicans see Heitkamp's seat as a key pickup opportunity in their battle to keep the Senate in GOP hands.

"Justice Kennedy's retirement makes the issue of Senate control one of the vital issues of our time," Trump said. "It's the most important thing we can do ... We must elect more Republicans. We have to do that. And the problem is, in the Senate, we have 51. We don't have enough."

Trump had once courted Heitkamp, even inviting her to New York to discuss a Cabinet post soon after his 2016 election victory.

But on Wednesday, the president accused Heitkamp of voting lockstep with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. He cited Heitkamp's votes against tax cuts he signed into law in December, and against the ObamaCare repeal, as well as support for so-called "sanctuary cities."

"You need a senator who doesn’t just talk like they're from North Dakota, but votes like they’re from North Dakota," said Trump, who added of Cramer: "He loves you, I will tell you that. He loves this state, loves the people. And we need Kevin Cramer to replace liberal Democrat Heidi Heitkamp."

The president is riding a winning streak with his endorsements. On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster survived a Republican runoff election one day after Trump held a rally in the state to support him. Also on Tuesday, Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., easily defeated former Rep. Michael Grimm in a GOP primary and former Trump adversary Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination to be Utah's next U.S. senator.

But on Wednesday night, Trump took the most pleasure in the primary defeat of House Democratic Caucus chairman Joe Crowley by 28-year-old socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The president described Crowley as "one of my biggest critics, a slovenly man [who] got his ass kicked by a young woman who had a lot of energy."

Trump told the crowd that he was "so disappointed" at rumors that Crowley might replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic Leader "because I want to keep Nancy Pelosi right where she is."

"I want to make a plea to my Democrat friends," the president said. "Please, please, please don't remove Nancy Pelosi. And please keep Maxine Waters on the air as your face and your mouthpiece," a reference to comments the Democratic congresswoman made over the weekend calling for protesters to confront administration officials in public over their immigration policies.

The president gave a spirited defense of those polices, decrying what he called "shameless attacks" on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by Democrats and liberal activists, some of whom have called for the agency's abolition.

"You know what would happen to parts of our country [if ICE was abolished]?" Trump asked. "It would be overrun with the worst criminal elements you have ever seen."

"These radical Democrat protesters -- they really want anarchy," Trump added. "But the only response they will find from our government is very strong law and order. We will not tolerate attacks on our law enforcement. We will protect our law enforcement like they protect us."

When called up to speak, Cramer thanked Trump for moving to roll back Obama-era regulations, cutting taxes and "on behalf of the most vulnerable forgotten people, the unborn babies, thank you for standing for life."

"And on these very important North Dakota values ... I'll always be with them and with you, 100 percent of the time," Cramer said.

The relationship between Cramer and the White House didn’t always have a smiling public face. Last month, Cramer made clear that he was less than happy with Trump's friendly treatment of Heitkamp -- including her front-row appearance when Trump signed a banking bill.

Trump visited North Dakota as new economic data show the state falling behind its Midwestern neighbors amid concerns about an escalating trade war with China. North Dakota's agricultural economy is dependent on exports and the Beijing government recently imposed a 25 percent tariff on soybeans, the state's top crop.

But the president defended his aggressive trade policy, claiming that "disastrous trade deals" had "plundered our wealth, gutted our communities, undermined our great farmers [and] taken our jobs."

Trump compared ongoing trade confrontations with China, the European Union and Canada to a game of poker, "a game we can't lose."

"We are going to make trade fair and reciprocal," Trump said. "You know what that is? They do it to us, we do it to them ... We're not starting a trade war, but we'll finish it."

"The era of global freeloading and taking advantage of the United States is over."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.