President Donald Trump mixed politics and policy during an afternoon visit to Charlotte on Friday, at one point breaking from script to bash the news media, threaten Canada and tout his Lake Norman golf club.
Arriving shortly after 2:30 p.m., Trump stopped at Central Piedmont Community College’s Harris Conference Center to sign an executive order designed to help more workers get private retirement accounts. Then he sped to Carmel Country Club to raise money for Republicans Mark Harris of the 9th District and Rep. Ted Budd of the 13th District.
It was Trump’s first trip to Charlotte since the March funeral of the Rev. Billy Graham. It comes two years before the president is expected to return for the 2020 Republican National Convention.
“It’s a very special place,” he said of Charlotte. “So special that we chose it for the 2020 Republican National Convention .... Charlotte’s been a great place for us, and I actually have investments in Charlotte.”
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He then praised his Trump National Golf Club in Mooresville, as well as Lake Norman.
“You know where my club is right? Trump National. It’s a very big success on Lake Norman. Beautiful,” he said. “Largest man-made lake in the world, by far, right?”
Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in North Carolina, but not in the U.S. or the world.
Trump’s visit came on the day on which much of official Washington paid respects to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was lying in state in the Capitol. Trump, who was not invited to McCain’s funeral ceremonies, did not mention the late senator in Charlotte.
At Carmel Country Club, Trump was introduced by his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, an N.C. native. Though most of his 30-minute address touted the work of his administration, he praised Harris and Budd, the two GOP congressional candidates.
“In one case we already have a great congressman, and in another we’re going to have a great congressman,” Trump said.
Trump also alluded to Democratic candidates, without naming Harris’ opponent, Dan McCready, or Kathy Manning, who’s running against Budd.
“We have some really bad people, bad people that are running for office .... They’re doing a tremendous injustice to our country .... How do you believe in open borders where the entire world population could pour into our country?” Trump said.
At CPCC, Trump signed an executive order designed to make it easier for employees of small businesses to open 401(k) accounts. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who joined Trump, told the crowd of about 300 that “small-business employees don’t deserve to to be forgotten.”
Trump said the “historic action” will “make sure that Americans can retire with the economic security they want.” The president also touted the tax cuts that took effect this year and his administration’s regulation-cutting agenda. And he said he’s done more in his first two years than any president.
“I don’t think it’s even close,” he said.
The president’s action on retirement drew both praise and criticism.
“We are encouraged by the steps taken today and encourage the administration and Congress to pursue policies that will increase savings ease and access to lifetime income products,” said Larry Chadwick, who heads government relations for the financial services provider TIAA.
But a group called Social Security Works criticized the order.
“Republicans have signaled their desire to cut, not expand, Social Security,” spokeswoman Linda Benesch said in a statement. “They will inevitably use this executive order as an additional excuse to cut Social Security.”
At CPCC, Trump veered from his script to slam what he called “crime-infested Democrats” who favor open borders. Working Americans, Trump said, “are working hard and they’re working against a tide of blue. (Democrats) want to open borders, they don’t mind crime, they’re not taking care of the military and they’re not taking care of our veterans.”
He also criticized the media’s “fake news,” and particularly Bloomberg News, whom he accused of violating an agreement to keep remarks on Canada “off-the-record.” He was apparently referring to published remarks about not making any trade concessions to Canada, whose trade talks with the U.S. broke down Friday.
“I gave a totally off the record ... I said something strong, and they violated it,” Trump said Friday. “But I said in the end it’s OK because at least Canada knows how I feel. . . . If we don’t make a deal with Canada, that’s just fine. We’ll just have to tariff those (Canadian-made) cars.”
He also defended his previous calls for merit-based immigration and said his administration’s tariffs on steel were producing new jobs and reopening mills. Trump claimed credit for the performance of the stock markets and for the nation’s sub-4 percent unemployment rate.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Trump said.
Supporters and detractors
Trump’s appearance at the outset of the Labor Day weekend caused traffic delays on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Small knots of supporters and detractors lined the route, waving a mix of American flags and signs.
“I have all my teeth and I’m voting for Trump,” read one.
“Dump Traitor Trump,” read another.
A few sign-carrying protesters and an inflatable chicken topped with golden, Trump-like hair were waiting outside the country club hours before Trump was to arrive. Police officers asked Trump supporters who also gathered there to cross the street, but kept the two groups apart. The scene remained peaceful.
“This is my president. I’m honored to be here,” said a flag-waving Gina Strumph, who said she is pro-life and pro-gun, and whose house is along the motorcade route to the country club.
On Thursday, the administration faced questions about why Trump is coming to North Carolina to sign the executive order, and whether the trip is intended to defray the costs of his campaign fundraising stops for Budd and Harris.
“The president is going out to the American people,” said James Sherk, a White House labor adviser. “It seems more fitting and appropriate to do that in real America than here in the Beltway, surrounded by the swamp.”
The president’s visit comes the same day as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showed his disapproval rating at a new high. It found 60 percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance while 36 percent approve.