Trump promises $300M for Great Lakes, otherwise mostly rambles

By: - March 28, 2019 9:41 pm
Trump in Grand Rapids

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Van Andel Arena on March 28, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids was the final city Trump visited during his 2016 campaign. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump, his son, Donald Trump Jr., and prominent Michigan Republicans took a victory lap on Thursday after what they view as a “pretty good week.”

Donald Trump Jr. at the rally in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

In a rambling, 80-minute speech before a capacity crowd of more than 10,000 at the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids, the president voiced his satisfaction about the end of the two-year investigation into Russian election interference. He again falsely claimed that he was totally vindicated and exonerated.

“The single greatest political hoax in our country is over, and guess what? We won,” Trump said to loud cheers. “They tried to take something great away from people.”

Trump’s son, Don Jr., introduced the president and shared a similar sentiment.  

The first-term Republican president also ran through a laundry list of economic achievements and swore he would secure $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Fund, which he proposed cutting by 90 percent earlier this month in his budget proposal.

Crowds lining up for blocks to see President Trump in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

“I support the Great Lakes. They’re beautiful, they’re big, very deep,” Trump said. “I’m going to get … full funding, $300 million for the Great Lakes.”

This was Trump’s second budget policy reversal of the day. There had been considerable blowback about his education budget axing funding for the Special Olympics — something West Michigan native and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos twice defended in Capitol Hill hearings.

Just before departing for Grand Rapids, the president announced he would fund the organization, as the Advance reported.

Bill Huizenga

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) was one of three members of Michigan’s Republican congressional delegation in attendance on Thursday, along with U.S. Reps. John Moolenaar (R-Midland) and Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet).

Huizenga, who’s a co-chair of the Great Lakes Water Task Force, told the Advance following Trump’s remarks that he has “no doubt” that a final budget will have full funding for the Great Lakes.

“Look, we made the case [to Trump],” Huizenga said of the importance of Great Lakes funding. “Bergman, Moolenaar, myself, in a concentrated time [we were] able to make the pitch. I was thrilled he [Trump] responded the way he did.”

Thursday’s campaign rally in Grand Rapids marked the official start of Trump’s 2020 presidential re-election campaign. He was greeted at the Gerald R. Ford Airport by the three congressmen, as well as state Rep. Matt Hall (R-Emmett Twp.) and former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who lost his 2018 bid for governor.

Trump didn’t mention the woman who beat Schuette by name, now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, simply calling her “Michigan’s new Democrat governor,” which resulted in “boos” from the crowd. However, at a state dinner for governors last month, Trump had Whitmer sit next to him and they talked about the Great Lakes, trade and the auto industry.

President Donald Trump holds a 2020 campaign rally in the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

Michigan is expected to be a major battleground state. The Cook Political Report lists the Mitten State as one of just five battleground states, along with Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida.

He also held his last rally of the 2016 campaign in the very early hours of election day. That wasn’t lost on either Trump or Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox, who noted Trump’s final 2016 stop in the West Michigan city.

“Grand Rapids, you are President Trump’s lucky charm,” Cox said.

With Michigan’s swing-state status and the narrow 10,704-vote margin by which Trump carried the state in 2016 over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Democratic presidential candidates are already flocking to the state as well.

Both former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) made the rounds in Southeast Michigan last week.

The “Baby Trump” balloon in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent out a fundraising email on Thursday reminding voters of how critical Michigan is for Democrats.  

An anti-Trump protestor in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

“That might help explain why Trump is heading to a rally in Michigan today,” Brown wrote in an email to supporters. “He knows his edge here is razor-thin, and we all know what he likes to do to fire up his base.”

Michigan Democrats, not surprisingly, slammed Trump’s appearance in Michigan. A protest before Trump’s rally was headlined by retired Army Maj. Richard Ojeda, a former Dem presidential hopeful, as the Advance first reported on Wednesday. The event also included “Baby Trump” and “Trump Rat” balloons.

Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a statement that Trump is ignoring the issues that Michigan voters care about.

“If he listened for once, he would hear the growing rumblings of an entire state that is sick of the attacks, tirades, excuses, and embarrassment that increases every day his corrupt administration occupies the White House,” Barnes said.

Lavora Barnes

“The people of Michigan care about health care, clean water, quality education, and good-paying jobs, not Donald Trump’s politics of division and utter failure to deliver anything but Michigan’s manufacturing jobs elsewhere.”

Trump, for his part, seems unlikely to turn down the divisive rhetoric. He mocked those seeking asylum in the United States, imitating them: “I am very afraid for my life; I’m afraid for my life.” He added that it’s “a big fat con job.”

He also issued his standard attacks on Democrats.

“Radical Democrats are the party of high taxes, open borders, late-term abortion, crime, hoaxes and delusion,” Trump said. “The Republican Party is the party for all Americans.”

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.