President Donald Trump celebrated political victories and promised more to come as he returned to Iowa Wednesday for a whirlwind tour through the state's second-largest city.
The president's first visit to the state since taking office featured an official event in which he praised Iowa agriculture and pledged to boost rural high speed internet followed by an exuberant primetime rally that mirrored his 2016 campaign events in showmanship and rhetoric.
In a visit to Kirkwood Community College, Trump stood between John Deere and Case IH farm machinery to pledge his administration's commitment to boosting agriculture exports, loosening federal regulations and supporting ethanol and biofuels.
Funding for expanded broadband internet access, he promised, would be included in a forthcoming $1 trillion infrastructure package.
"Farming is something that is very beautiful to me. I'm not a farmer, but I'd be very happy to be one," Trump told the crowd. "It's a very beautiful world to me, and it's a truly noble American profession."
Trump carried the rural theme into a wide-ranging campaign rally in front of nearly 6,000 die-hard supporters that evening. Buoyed by Tuesday night's Republican victories in two special congressional elections and the raucous, chanting crowd, the president spoke for more than an hour, touting his administration's early accomplishments and predicting the imminent death of the health care law known as Obamacare.
The address wasn't without one political wrinkle, though. In a riff on his support for all manner of energy production, Trump singled out and disparaged wind - a major generator of power, growth industry and source of income across Iowa.
"I don't want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories," Trump told the crowd after ticking off a list of energy sources his administration supports, "as the birds fall to the ground."
Wind energy accounts for 37 percent of power generated in Iowa, and has long been a bipartisan point of pride.
Wednesday's trip was Trump's first visit to the state since his post-election, pre-inauguration "thank you" tour stop in Des Moines last December. This time, he was joined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Terry Branstad, the erstwhile Iowa governor who soon departs for Beijing at Trump's ambassador to China.
Branstad, who has been in Washington, D.C., for the last several weeks preparing for his new role, traveled to Iowa on Air Force One with Trump. The pair walked off the plane together, sharing an umbrella as they descended the stairs in a rainstorm. They were greeted on the tarmac by Branstad's successor, Gov. Kim Reynolds, and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.
"We're happy and really proud of Terry," Trump said at Kirkwood. "His legacy will endure for a long, long time in this state. ... Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much and have a good time in China."
At the rally, Trump also spoke to the fast-moving but as-yet unseen bill in the Senate to remake the Affordable Care Act health care law, accusing Democrats of refusing to take part in negotiations over the legislation.
"If we went and got the single greatest health care plan in the history of the world, we would not get one Democrat vote because they're obstructionists," Trump said.
Thus far in the Senate, not even Republican members have seen the bill being drafted, while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said a vote could be held as early as next week.
While the crowd he met in Cedar Rapids was loud, boisterous and adoring, Trump remains a divisive figure in the country, drawing strong support from his GOP base but also contempt from Democrats and progressives. His job approval is underwater nationally, with about 40 percent of Americans approving of his performance as president compared to almost 54 percent who disapprove, according to a polling average compiled by Real Clear Politics.
In Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, those divergent opinions were fully evident.
About 250 to 300 anti-Trump activists gathered in two groups on street corners about a block from the U.S. Cellular Center, where the rally was held.
The protesters voiced boisterous opposition Trump, chanting, "We want a flood wall, not a border wall," and "Trump, you're fired," while waving handmade signs with messages such as "Impeach Him" and "Trump Makes America Hate Again."
Early on in his speech, a woman in the crowd behind Trump stood up and began blowing a whistle. The crowd erupted in boos and then began chanting "USA! USA!" as she was escorted out. Trump, later, dismissed the protester as "a Bernie Sanders guy."
The president's official event at Kirkwood was more apolitical, as Trump toured learning spaces for students in the community college's agriculture program and touted his administration's commitment to aid and support for rural America.
New on Wednesday was the commitment from the president to include expanded rural high-speed internet in a vast infrastructure package he's been promising since the campaign but which has yet to take shape.
"We must also ensure these students have the broadband internet access they need in order to succedd and thrive in this new and very modern and very changed economy and world," he said. "That is why I'll be including a provision in our infrastructure proposal - our $1 trillion proposal, you'll be seeing it very shortly - to promote and foster and enhance broadband access for rural America."
Trump offered few details beyond that. In a briefing on Tuesday, Ray Starling, a special assistant to the president on ag issues, told reporters the administration would defer to Congress on how to implement a rural broadband program, but said he was hopeful new federal aid could "leverage" investments by private entities or state or local governments.
The whirlwind tour at Kirkwood and the conspicuous appearances, by not just Trump but also Perdue and Ross, represented the administration's latest outreach to the Iowa agriculture community.
Rural Iowa turned out big for Trump on Election Day in 2016, but has been cautious if his policy aims since he took office. His move to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and plans to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal with Canada and Mexico have drawn concern from farmers, who benefit from international commodity exports.
On the flip side, the administration last month announced a deal allowing the U.S. to export beef to China for the first time since 2003, opening a large new market for producers.
Perdue made Iowa one of his first stops following his confirmation as the head of USDA, appearing in Boone last month to reassure commodity farmers here that he understood their concerns on trade, ethanol policy and more.
Trump reiterated all those points on Wednesday, while underscoring his wariness of trade deals and wish to renegotiate existing arrangements.
Source: AgriMarketing |