White House

Trump reprises his pitch as the only savior for a Rust Belt battleground

Environmental groups call Pennsylvania facility he visited part of a ‘cancer alley’

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville, Pennsylvania on May 20. He was back in the state, his 11th visit in two years, on Tuesday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump interrupted his summer vacation Tuesday to again court Rust Belt voters that helped deliver him the White House, espousing false statements and bold promises as he seeks a second term.

“The political class in Washington gutted … your factories,” Trump told workers at a new Shell-owned petrochemical plant in Beaver County, along the border with Ohio, another perennial swing state he also won in 2016. Trump also blamed other countries for American industrial decline, drawing cheers when he told the audience “they have been screwing us for years.”

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The president — yet again — turned an official White House visit, this one ostensibly about energy policy, into a mini-campaign rally. He railed against Democrats’ efforts to determine whether he has violated the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” by benefiting financially through his hotels and other businesses while in office.

Reviewing 2016 for the crowd, Trump criticized Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for spending time in the wrong states, while predicting he has a “good chance” next year to win Virginia and its 13 electoral votes. He panned “Pocahontas” and “Sleepy Joe,” vowing to hit the former (Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts) “hard” if she is able to defeat the latter (former Vice President Joe Biden) and capture the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Trump painted himself as a one-man savior who has revived Pennsylvania’s manufacturing and steel industries — even though some experts dispute steel is expanding as quickly as the president says it is. Citing industry data, TradeEconomics.com found that U.S. steel production fell between January and June

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Trump took credit for the Shell plant he visited Tuesday, telling the crowd: “It was the Trump administration that made it possible. No one else.” The audience applauded as the president reprised his 2016 argument that he — and he alone — could help Rust Belt state voters who are struggling to find jobs and pay their bills.

But the bravado was not the only vintage Trump moment. He won Beaver County, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, by less than 19 percentage points, but told the crowd the margin was “28 points.” 

“I did very well here. How many points did we win by? 28 points? That’s a lot,” the ever-boastful  chief executive said to cheers.

Later, Trump contended that Pennsylvania’s natural gas and other resources were just sitting beneath the Earth’s surface, undetected before he came into office. The state’s supplies of crucial resources “really came about over the last few years, nobody knew this fracking was possible,” he contended.

But The Patriot-News, which reports on the Harrisburg area, reported in March 2016 — months before Trump won the general election — that an already years-old “fracking boom” had made the Keystone State “one of the states exporting fuel overseas.” The newspaper also noted that “Range Resources drilled the first Marcellus Shale well in southwestern Pennsylvania in October 2004.”

Trump has uttered more than 12,000 false or misleading statements since taking office in January 2017, according to the Washington Post’s fact checker staff.

With less than 15 months until Election Day, the president faces an uphill fight in the Keystone State. Multiple polls show him trailing several of the top Democratic presidential hopefuls there, including Biden by 10.5 percentage points and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by 8.5 points, according to averages of hypothetical one-on-one races compiled by RealClearPolitics.

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The president also trails Warren, who he acknowledged has been gaining steam in the Democratic primary battle, by 3.5 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics. And two polls suggest a head-to-head general election race with California Sen. Kamala Harris, if it started today, would be a virtual dead heat.

The stop at the Shell complex in Monaca is his 11th in the key battleground state in the last two years alone. But Trump beamed as he told the crowd it was his 13th since taking office, claiming that outpaces any previous president.

The trip comes at a crucial time for the president, as he revs up his 2020 reelection machine eager to keep just enough of his 2016 coalition intact in the six or seven swing states that political strategists say will decide who occupies the White House come midday on Jan. 20, 2021.

But two years after he put together his winning combination of electoral votes, the region he was visiting in Pennsylvania may have decided it did not exactly reap the economic rewards Trump promised, and the 17th Congressional District it lies in elected Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb.

Lamb was mum about Trump’s visit to his district, but environmental groups were not.

The Shell facility will turn fracked ethane gas into plastics. The Sierra Club said in a Monday statement the site presents “dire health and safety threats it poses to nearby communities.” A coalition of other environmental groups on Tuesday wrote senators urging them to approve a House-passed measure mandating the Energy Department “clarify” that a federal loan program only dole out funds to “clean energy projects that avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The Monaca facility and other similar ones proposed for the Ohio River Valley region would create what those groups dubbed a “cancer alley.”

“This industry-proposed regional buildout of petrochemical infrastructure would emit large amounts of hazardous air and climate pollutants in a geographical location that has long suffered from extractive industries like coal mining and fracking, has borne the brunt of the opioid crisis, and continues to be an area of economic divestment,” the groups told senators.

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