President Donald Trump spent his Thursday afternoon in the Lehigh Valley, where he thanked workers at an Upper Macungie medical equipment facility and called on Pennsylvania to reopen.
Trump spoke without a mask for about a half hour to employees at Owens & Minor. The company manufactures and distributes medical equipment like masks and surgical gowns. They have been tasked by the Department of Health and Human Services to manufacture 600 million N95 masks over the next 18 months, along with four other companies.
It was the first time a sitting president visited the Lehigh Valley since President Barack Obama spoke at Lehigh Carbon Community College in 2009.
Trump highlighted that the majority of the products manufactured by Owens & Minor are made in America. He announced a new effort to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile.
“From the moment this terrible virus reached our shores, each of you has worked relentlessly to get the vital supplies to our health care warriors,” Trump said of the employees at Owens & Minor.
But as to be expected, the political implications of the visit loomed large. Pennsylvania is crucial to Trump’s re-election bid in November, which he won in 2016 by less than a percentage point. And recently, Trump has called out Democratic governors, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, for failing to reopen their states’ economies during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening up a little bit,” Trump said. “You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected and they want to keep them closed. You can’t do that.”
Several county officials and state lawmakers, including Lehigh Valley’s own State Senator Lisa Boscola, have called on Wolf to reopen their regions faster. Some have said they will open their counties on Friday in open defiance of Wolf’s criteria. The Lehigh Valley has currently not met Wolf’s criteria to reopen.
Hundreds gathered in Harrisburg last month to protest the state’s stay-at-home order, and another one is planned for May 15 outside the Capitol.
“We need a plan for workplaces, health and safety,” said Rep. Dan Meuser, R, who serves Pennsylvania’s 9th congressional district and greeted Trump in Allentown. “Industries have plans. The governor doesn’t want to hear about it. The president does want to hear about it. And he does listen.”
Meuser said he and Pennsylvania Reps. Scott Perry, Frank Keller and Brian Fitzpatrick spoke to Trump after Air Force One landed at Lehigh Valley International Airport around 2:20 p.m. Meuser said Trump asked the congressmen about the coronavirus situation in Pennsylvania and about how the distribution of money through the CARES Act was going.
Trump waded into politics, too. Meuser said he asked how each of the four congressmen’s re-election races looked in their districts and said Trump expressed support for Lisa Scheller. Scheller is a Republican running against Rep. Susan Wild, D, in Pennsylvania’s 7th district, which includes the Lehigh Valley.
“Saving lives is very important,” Meuser said. “We can’t do it while we’re killing livelihoods.”
A parade of Trump supporters lined Industrial Boulevard welcoming Trump to the region. Hundreds of people donned Trump apparel, wore Trump flags as capes and held signs calling for Pennsylvania to reopen — many without wearing masks.
“We’re here to support President Trump, but we’re also here to ask President Trump to send (Attorney General) Bill Barr in to help us,” Michael Wolfe said. “The governor of Pennsylvania has elected himself as king, and as dictator of Pennsylvania, and it’s unconstitutional, and we want our freedom back.”
Since March 15, the state’s Department of Labor said 1.8 million Pennsylvanians have received unemployment benefits.
Some held signs saying “Fire Fauci,” referring to the nation’s director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases who has been advising Trump on the coronavirus pandemic. Others mocked Wolf as a “Big Bad Wolf” for closing the state’s economy.
One sign simply read, “Help Us Trump.”
Mark Licnia, a Trump supporter who was wearing a mask at the rally outside Owens & Minor, said he appreciates that Trump is different. He said he can’t see presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden winning in November.
“I just think it makes common sense, that it’s good to have somebody with a businessman’s experience, not a politician,” Licnia said.
Trump could be seen waving to cheering supporters from inside his presidential motorcade while leaving the Owens & Minor facility around 4 p.m.
Still, not everyone welcomed the visit. Smaller pockets of protesters had gathered on street corners on the outskirts of Owens & Minor.
“President Trump lies,” read one sign. “83,000+ die.”