COUNCIL BLUFFS, Ia. — Even before President Trump arrived in Council Bluffs on Tuesday night, a boisterous crowd anxiously awaited his arrival.
The visit was Trump’s fourth to Iowa since the November 2016 election, when he won the state’s six electoral votes. Trump previously visited Dubuque in July, Cedar Rapids in June 2017 and Des Moines in December 2016. Vice President Mike Pence has stopped in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs and Boone since taking office.
There were long lines of Trump supporters — from Iowa and Nebraska — outside the Mid-America Center more than three hours before the president was scheduled to speak at 6:30 p.m. Some of them had been standing in the rain since morning. They spoke with unabashed enthusiasm about the president and none of them found any fault with him.
“I love him. He is doing some awesome things for our country,” said Nick Payer, 25, of Pocahontas, Iowa, who is planning to reenlist in the Army after previously serving eight years as an artillery crew member. “I like his tax reform and his foreign policy — how he is handling Russia and North Korea. I really like his immigration plans.”
Don Rhoten, 78, of Council Bluffs, a retired casino worker, wore a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap as he patiently waited to enter the arena. He described Trump as the best president since he’s been old enough to vote.
“He is doing everything right — everything; you name it. I guess it’s because he can and he knows how to do it,” Rhoten said.
LaNiece Sharpling, 60, of Lewis, a small community in southwest Iowa, is a retired medical records auditor. Wearing a pink Trump 2020 hat, she credited Trump with reducing unemployment and bolstering the economy, which has resulted in record stock market highs.
“I love the fact that he supports our veterans. My father and seven of his brothers were in Vietnam,” said Sharpling, whose husband, Bob, is a 24-year Navy veteran.
‘Welcome to Trump Country’
Once inside the arena, the crowd roared with approval when Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, shouted with a raspy voice, “Welcome to Trump Country.” He praised Republican political leaders and he blasted the news media, saying he was sick of “so-called journalists constantly being political commentators.”
Kaufmann labeled NBC News as “Never Been Crazier” and he told journalists to “Do your jobs,” which brought cheers from the audience.
“We in politics believe in a free press. But we also believe in a free press that believes in the peoples’ ability to decide the truth,” Kaufmann said.
The crowd also heard from other several other speakers and chanted “Build the wall!” and waved signs when immigration was mentioned. They booed when the name of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was brought up. After the National Anthem, the chanted, “USA! USA!”
Calling out the president
Council Bluffs is just across the Missouri River from Omaha, and protesters from Iowa and Nebraska were outside the Mid-America Center to oppose Trump’s policies. They included representatives of NextGen Iowa, which is registering and organizing young voters to support Democrats running for governor, Congress and other offices. A host of other groups were expected, including the Women’s March of Nebraska, Indivisible Nebraska and Indivisible Iowa.
“Young Iowans are fired up like never before,” said Haley Hager, state youth director for NextGen Iowa. “This is a chance for us to call out the president for hateful and racist rhetoric that is not working for young Iowans.”
The Iowa Democratic Party — led by Chair Troy Price and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture candidate Tim Gannon — held a news conference in downtown Council Bluffs ahead of Trump’s arrival to contend the Republican Party has an anti-rural agenda.
Price and Gannon pointed to a continued slump in Iowa farm incomes under the Trump administration. They also criticized Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on imported products, saying it will cause lasting damage to international markets and is causing billions of dollars in losses to Iowa farmers.
“If our farmers aren’t doing well, that means the rest of Iowa is going to struggle,” Gannon said.
The Democrats also claimed the Trump administration has undermined the Renewable Fuels Standard through waivers and exemptions to the oil industry. These moves have destroyed demand for nearly 2.2 billion gallons of ethanol, which roughly equates to a billion bushels of corn, the Democrats said.
Gannon said he supports Trump’s plan to allow the year-round sale of E-15 fuel that is 15 percent ethanol blended with gasoline. But he said it’s not clear if the Trump administration will have rules implemented to allow the sale of E-15 by next summer, and he worries that the Trump administration will continue to hand out waivers to the petroleum industry “like Halloween candy.”
Iowa Democrats want to help workers, improve the state’s education system and provide access to quality health care, Price said. “I think the message from Iowa Democrats today is that there are better days ahead,” he remarked.
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