With the coronavirus pandemic swirling and the 2020 election less than six months away, President Donald Trump will touch down in the Lehigh Valley on Thursday afternoon.
Trump will be making his first appearance as president to the region, though it will be his 18th visit to Pennsylvania since he took office in 2017. The president will be visiting Owens & Minor, a medical equipment manufacturer and distributor with facilities in Upper Macungie, Pennsylvania.
There are currently over 58,000 cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, including over 3,300 in Lehigh County, according to the state’s Department of Health.
Politically, the visit has implications, too. Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016 by less than a percentage point. The swing state would be crucial to Trump’s chances to win re-election in November, and the Lehigh Valley could make the difference.
Trump won Northampton County in 2016, after President Barack Obama won the county in 2008 and 2012. Lehigh County favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Here’s what you need to know about Trump’s visit:
What is Owens & Minor?
Owens & Minor manufactures and stores inventory of medical equipment like N95 masks, surgical masks and surgical gowns and transports this equipment to health care facilities. The company has 60 facilities in 15 countries, with its headquarters in Virginia.
Owens & Minor is a member of the White House COVID-19 Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force. The company, according to its website, is one of five manufacturers selected by the Department of Health and Human Services to produce 600 million N95 masks in the next 18 months. Owens & Minor reports it has increased manufacturing capacity of N95 masks by 300 percent compared to 2019 levels.
The company reports its warehouses are able to reach 90 percent of American health care providers within four hours.
Why is Trump coming here now?
Trump is expected to tour the Upper Macungie facility and give remarks. He plans to focus on efforts to preserve and replenish the national stockpile of medical equipment.
But the decision to come to the Lehigh Valley comes after Trump’s calls on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, to reopen the Keystone State.
The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2020
“The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails,” Trump tweeted on May 11. “The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes.”
Hundreds of residents flooded Harrisburg last month to protest Wolf’s stay-at-home order. And recently, after Wolf laid out criteria for how each of Pennsylvania’s six regions can begin to transition from red to yellow to green phases, several counties and state lawmakers have announced they will defy the governor’s orders.
So far, 24 counties have been authorized to move into the yellow phase of reopening, with 13 more to come on May 15.
But that’s not stopping Lancaster, Dauphin, Franklin, Schuykill and Lebanon counties from telling Wolf they will open up anyway even though they have failed to meet Wolf’s criteria.
“Lancaster County has demonstrated time and time again that our leaders are able to find local solutions to local problems through collaboration,” said State Senator Ryan Aument, R-36, in a letter to Wolf. “This collaborative approach is far different than that of the governor, who has not demonstrated an interest in or ability to coordinate with those outside of his administration.”
Lehigh Valley’s own State Senator Lisa Boscola, D-18, wrote a letter of her own to Wolf on May 8 calling on the governor to “consider moving the Lehigh Valley into the yellow phase of reopening immediately.”
Wolf, though, isn’t backing down. He tweeted on May 11 that counties under stay-at-home orders that do not comply will risk losing federal stimulus money.
“The politicians who are encouraging us to quit the fight are acting in a most cowardly way,” he said.
I won’t sit back and watch residents who live in counties under Stay at Home orders get sick because local leaders cannot see the risks of #COVID19 and push to reopen prematurely.
Today I am announcing consequences for counties that do not abide by the law to remain closed.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) May 11, 2020
The latest FiveThirtyEight poll shows 52 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s response to the coronavirus. A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll shows 72 percent of Pennsylvanians approve of Wolf’s handling of the outbreak — including 50 percent of Republicans.
What are local leaders saying in advance of Trump’s visit?
Edward Hozza, Jr., the chairman of the Lehigh County Democratic Committee, said his main concerns with Trump’s visit lies in the health and safety of the workers at Owens & Minor. He noted the new infections of White House staff members.
Hozza noted given exposure in the White House, staff should be in quarantine for 10 to 14 days. Trump was also in Arizona on May 5, where he did not wear a mask.
“His goals: stir up trouble for a Democratic governor, gin up the fanatic right which are his followers, make a campaign stop, and distract from his deadly failures dealing with the pandemic,” said Kathy Harrington, the 1st vice chair for the Lehigh County Democratic Committee. “There is not one shred of desire in him to be helpful or sympathetic to the millions of suffering families in our country. In the process, he may actually be risking lives here and causing more spread of the virus.”
Others, though, are welcoming the visit. Giovanni Landi, the chairman of the Lehigh County Republican Committee, said he is “very excited” to see Trump visit the Lehigh Valley. He said he is confident Trump will be able to restore the economy and the American spirit to “greatness.”
“President Trump and his team have been working tirelessly to save American lives by supporting states and local authorities who need help, providing our heroes in the medical community (and) first responders with the protective gear they need to stay safe, and cutting through the red tape in bureaucracy to get Americans access to drugs they need,” Landi said.
About 250 people so far have committed to attending a pro-Trump welcome rally in Allentown on Thursday, coinciding with the president’s visit of the region.
Rep. Susan Wild (D) also weighed in on Trump’s planned visit. Wild, who is up for re-election in November, won her seat in the 7th Congressional District in 2018 after the district was redrawn and following former Rep. Charlie Dent’s, R, retirement.
Welcome to #PA07, Mr. President. But people are dying here in Allentown. As you plan your photo opp, they’re saying goodbye to their parents in nursing homes over Zoom. Our firefighters are preparing to be furloughed. Folks are hungry, tired, & broke. How are you helping? https://t.co/gRZ30un4dh
— Susan Wild (@wildforcongress) May 12, 2020
“Welcome to #PA07, Mr. President,” Wild tweeted on May 12. “But people are dying here in Allentown. As you plan your photo opp, they’re saying goodbye to their parents in nursing homes over Zoom. Our firefighters are preparing to be furloughed. Folks are hungry, tired, & broke. How are you helping?”