President Donald Trump made his presence at the college football title game Monday known on and off the field.
His arrival briefly paralyzed traffic and caused long delays for fans waiting to enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch Georgia take on Alabama for the championship.
Once inside, he was greeted with a booming chorus of cheers — mixed with some boos — as he took the field for the national anthem. And outside, dozens of Trump critics protested his appearance, including some who waved signs calling for his impeachment.
The president, meanwhile, seemed to bask in the attention. Standing near the 40-yard line flanked by military members, Trump stood with his hand on his heart mouthing some of the words to the anthem as he surveyed the crowd. From his luxury box, he smiled as he watched the game with ROTC members.
Trump has cozied up to college football as he sharpens his criticism of National Football League players and coaches who refuse to stand during the national anthem to protest against social injustice.
Before he arrived in Atlanta, he was rewarded with booming applause when he told attendees of an agriculture conference in Tennessee that “we love our flag and we love our anthem and we want to keep it that way.”
He added: “We want our national anthem respected, too.”
The remarks came at an appearance at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Nashville, which he attended with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The president watched the game from choice seats with Perdue, a former Georgia governor who was a walk-on Bulldogs football player, and Nick Ayers, a Georgia native and top aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
It is Trump’s second visit to Atlanta since he won the election, and several dozen demonstrators protested his arrival near the stadium. Some of them sought to remind him of his harsh words about the city: Before his inauguration, he said in a tweet that the congressional district that spans the city is in “horrible shape and falling apart.”
Those harsh words came shortly after U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who represents the heart of the city, announced he would boycott Trump’s inauguration. Shortly after arriving in Atlanta on Monday, he offered something of a truce to the city.
After Air Force One landed, Trump welcomed Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, Alveda King, on board to sign a measure that grants Georgia its first national historic park at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site near downtown Atlanta. It will be at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site near downtown Atlanta.
The measure was long championed by Lewis, who praised the decision without mentioning the president.
“I hope that this moment will serve as a reminder of the constant work to realize Dr. King’s dream of building the Beloved Community - a community at peace with itself and our neighbors,” Lewis said.