President Donald Trump talked up the strength of the U.S. economy Monday at a business roundtable in Burnsville, using his brief visit to trumpet Republican-passed tax cuts and paint Minnesota as an economic success story.
“This has been a very special state,” Trump said at the outset of an hourlong discussion at Nuss Truck & Equipment, where he highlighted several congressional victories for Republicans in Minnesota in an otherwise bleak year for his party last year.
Several hundred supporters and protesters gathered outside the company’s gates before Trump’s motorcade rolled in, with police controlling confrontations and shouting between the two groups.
Before a sympathetic group of several hundred made up of Nuss employees, local Republican politicians and party operatives, Trump pointed to the low unemployment rate and dropping jobless claims in Minnesota — for which he credited “your federal government.” He specifically claimed credit for an economic revival on Minnesota’s Iron Range, touted his administration’s moves to open up mineral exploration near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and called for the approval of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline.
“The Minnesota Iron Range, OK? You know, I opened that up,” Trump said. Mentioning the tariffs his administration put in place on steel from other countries, Trump said it would lead to more opportunities for the use of Minnesota iron ore: “I hear you have among the best in the world, they say.”
Some of the Trump administration’s tariffs on agricultural products have had a less desirable result in southern Minnesota’s agricultural economy. Trump touched briefly on those ongoing talks.
“We’re in massive trade negotiations because our farmers have not been treated well for many years,” Trump said. “We’re changing that and wait until you see what happens. We’ll see what happens with China but we are doing well in negotiation.”
The roundtable, held in a large garage with a white and green Mack Truck as a backdrop, was organized as an official White House event. It lacked some of the theatrics and combative style of Trump’s political rallies, with the president seated at the table with a handful of business owners from Minnesota and around the country.
The event was billed as a chance to highlight U.S. economic success following the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
“Today is Tax Day,” Trump said to boos from the crowd. He called the tax cuts “the largest in history” — a claim some economists dispute.
“Over 80 percent of American families are now receiving benefits from the tax cut,” Trump added.
Megan Brockway, director of human resources for Rochester-based Nuss, was among the executives and business owners to share stories of direct benefit to companies and their employees from the tax cuts. Several members of the Nuss family have been reliable donors to Republican candidates.
“As a company, Nuss was able to give all of its employees a bonus in 2018,” Brockway said. The company has 350 employees in eight locations around the state.
Trump recited a number of GOP selling points for the tax cuts, which Democrats opposed for conferring most of the benefits on the wealthy and large corporations. Trump said a “typical family” earning $75,000 a year is saving more than $2,000 a year in federal taxes.
He also touted the doubled child credit and said he eliminated the “unfair death tax.”
Polls have found the GOP tax cuts to be unpopular with many Americans. A Pew Research Center poll taken in March found 36 percent in support of the tax law while 49 percent were opposed.
The DFL Party branded the event as a “publicity stunt” and criticized the tax law for draining resources for schools and social programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
“The truth is, Donald Trump is a rich businessman using the presidency and his tax bill to make money for himself and his rich friends,” said DFL Chairman Ken Martin.
One of Trump’s 2020 Democratic challengers, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, released her 2018 tax return a few hours before Trump’s visit. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who met with Trump briefly on Air Force One to discuss disaster relief, also released his 2018 return. Klobuchar said Trump, who has long resisted calls to release his tax returns, should do likewise.
Environmentalists also took aim at Trump’s promise to ramp up mineral exploration near the Boundary Waters.
“Donald Trump is selling out Minnesota and the Boundary Waters Wilderness to a foreign mining corporation — plain and simple,” said Tom Landwehr, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “Economic analysis from two Harvard economists show that mining near the Boundary Waters will destroy more jobs than it creates.”
While Trump frequently turned to taxes and the U.S. economy, he did range more widely during the roundtable discussion, touching on some of his favorite topics. He again promised a replacement for Obamacare if he is reelected next year.
“We’re not only going to save all your private plans but we’re going to give you something much better as an alternative,” he said, vowing lower premiums and deductibles. On other occasions, Trump has said that a GOP health plan will likely not be introduced until after the 2020 elections.
Trump also talked about immigration, repeating frequent promises that he would slow the flow of immigrants from other countries. He predicted the issue would help Republicans in next year’s election.
“We can retake the House. I think over this issue, I think we can retake,” Trump said.
Some local groups mounted organized protests against Trump. Beatriz Winters, of Burnsville, said the Trump administration has unleashed hatred like she’s never seen.
“With this new administration, we are finding the rise of hate and discrimination, and I’m standing against it,” Winters said.
Rene Reynolds drove from Hammond, Wis., to show support for Trump. Wrapped in an American flag bearing Trump’s face, and wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat, she stood in the front line waiting for the president.
Reynolds said she will vote for Trump again in 2020 and hopes he wins in Wisconsin for a second time. She’s working on convincing her family.
“I have some sisters I need to sway, but I really think he’s doing a good job,” Reynolds said.