Trump Gives Phoenix Mask Factory Visit a Campaign Feel

 Trump Gives Phoenix Mask Factory Visit a Campaign Feel

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WASHINGTON — President Trump ventured beyond the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday for the first time in more than two months, turning an official appearance at an Arizona factory producing respirator masks into an event with a campaign rally feel.

In his latest show of support for returning to normal life even as the coronavirus continues to spread, Mr. Trump took a day trip to Phoenix to visit a Honeywell International plant that manufactures N95 masks and to hold a round table on Native American issues.

But Arizona has also emerged as a battleground state for the 2020 election, and several recent polls show him either tied with or trailing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. One of Mr. Trump’s last “Keep America Great” campaign rallies before the pandemic largely halted his travel was in Phoenix, on Feb. 19.

In heavily political remarks to Honeywell employees after a tour of the factory, the president said that “our country is now in the next stage of the battle” against the virus and that “now we are reopening our country.” Mr. Trump also boasted of his 2016 electoral victory in the state, called for “the full truth about the China situation” and gave the microphone to a pair of local campaign supporters.

The coronavirus has severely confined Mr. Trump, who before often left Washington several times a week. He last held a campaign rally on March 2, in Charlotte, N.C., before indefinitely suspending campaign events. He stopped his regular trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., and a nearby golf club in West Palm Beach after March 8.

The day trip was Mr. Trump’s third known outing from the White House since social distancing practices went into effect nationwide in mid-March. The president traveled to Norfolk, Va., in late March to see off a Navy hospital ship bound for New York and did not leave again until Friday, when he went to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

Mr. Trump wore safety goggles as he toured the 500-employee plant, which previously manufactured aerospace equipment. But he did not wear a mask, despite signage near the factory floor announcing safety guidelines that included an admonition: “Please wear your mask at all times.” Other members of Mr. Trump’s entourage, including the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and the national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, also did not cover their faces.

Much like his official events of old, Mr. Trump took the stage not to the traditional “Hail to the Chief” but to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” a staple of the president’s rallies. He noted with satisfaction his 2016 victory in the state, which he carried by about 90,000 votes, or 3.5 percentage points.

And Mr. Trump called to the podium two local Latino restaurant owners whose business drew fierce criticism after one of them was spotted attending Mr. Trump’s February rally in the city. “Latinos love Trump!” declared Betty Rivas, an owner of Sammy’s Mexican Grill.

The president also called up several employees of the plant to speak. They used a separate microphone positioned several feet away. Employees in the audience also stood several feet apart from one another.

Honeywell said in March that it would begin producing 20 million masks a month at the plant for delivery to the federal government, creating an estimated 500 new jobs.

Democrats were critical of Mr. Trump’s travel, saying that it sent a questionable message in light of an internal government report suggesting that coronavirus deaths in the country could surge in the coming weeks. The president told reporters on Tuesday that the report assumed “no mitigation,” like social distancing measures, but public health officials have warned that the move by several states to reopen business will draw people from their homes and lead to broader contagion.

Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat whose district includes central Phoenix, said Mr. Trump’s visit appeared to be mainly about the 2020 campaign. Mr. Gallego noted that Honeywell had East Coast operations much closer to Washington, including a Rhode Island plant that also manufactures N95 masks.

“The message he’s sending is that Arizona is a competitive state, and he knows that he is actually underwater in terms of polling numbers right now, and that he has to play catch-up because people have deemed him a failure in terms of dealing with the pandemic,” Mr. Gallego said.

During his visit to Phoenix in February, Mr. Trump assured a local television reporter that April weather would quell the virus. “I think it’s going to work out fine,” the president said in remarks that Mr. Gallego said were being replayed Tuesday on local news media.

Mr. Trump struck a very different tone in his return. In remarks after his meeting with Native American leaders, he likened the national effort against the virus to a military campaign.

“I’m viewing our great citizens of this country, to a certain extent, and to a large extent, as warriors. They’re warriors,” Mr. Trump told reporters, adding: “We can’t keep our country closed. We have to open our country.”

While travel could put Mr. Trump, 73, and his staff at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus, he insisted before leaving that his trip would be safe. “Everybody traveling has been tested. Literally, they have been tested in the last hour,” he said, adding that White House test kits return results within five minutes. The president said Secret Service agents traveling with him were also tested.

Just as Mr. Trump prepared to leave Washington for Arizona, which has one of the country’s largest Native American populations, the Treasury Department announced that it would begin distributing $4.8 billion in aid allocated for Native American tribes in the stimulus package, releasing a stalled tranche of funds that the tribes had sued Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to obtain.

A group of tribes took that step after the Trump administration failed to provide any of the $8 billion set aside for tribal governments, or to announce its criteria for disbursing it, before a late-April statutory deadline. The delay dealt another blow to some of the most vulnerable and hardest-hit communities in the country grappling with the health and economic consequences of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

But on Tuesday, just as Mr. Trump prepared to leave the White House, Mr. Mnuchin and David Bernhardt, the interior secretary, announced that more than half of the money would be provided starting immediately and laid out a formula for calculating how much each tribe would receive.

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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This content first appear on nytimes

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