During a whirlwind trip here Monday, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at promoting the expansion of broadband Internet into rural areas that lack connectivity.
Trump, speaking before a crowd of nearly 5,000 American Farm Bureau Federation members at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention, also touted the effects of axing regulations on American industry and cutting taxes on the nation’s farmers and agriculture industry.
“The American dream is roaring back,” he said.
He then spent the next 35 minutes defending his first year in office in a speech tailored to the audience of farmers, a group that remains one of the pillars of his political base. In a rarity for the president, Trump stayed mostly on script and was more policy focused than usual, offering less of the firebrand populist rhetoric that has defined him.
: Farmers fret over disappearing profits, hope Trump will hear their concerns“You are forgotten no more,” Trump said. “We’re fighting for our country, we are fighting for our farmers and we are fighting for our great American flag. …
“And we want our national anthem respected as well,” the president said, receiving one of several standing ovations as impromptu chants of “U-S-A” broke out.
The president’s address marked his first major policy speech in weeks and came amid a tumultuous period after the release of a controversial new book that has put the administration on the defense.
Nevertheless, Trump derided the “fake media” only once, and he never mentioned former Trump aide Steve Bannon, whose recent comments about the president’s son, quoted in the book, have come under fire.
Trump used the bulk of his speech to trumpet the effects of recently enacted tax cuts on the nation’s farmers and agriculture industry.
“Under this new law, the typical family of four earning $75,000 will see an income tax cut of more than $2,000 — slashing their tax bill in half,” the president said.
Trump also received a standing ovation after mentioning changes to the estate tax that he said were beneficial to farmers and small businesses.
About 80 small businesses and small-farm estates are expected to face an estate tax in 2017, levied on estates in excess of $5.49 million, and on average those estates will owe less than 6% of their value, according to the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington. In 2018, a couple can exclude $22.4 million from estate taxes.
Although the Farm Bureau sought to eliminate the estate tax entirely, the final version of the tax bill kept it intact while reducing the number of people who pay it.
The new tax law will allow farmers to deduct the entire cost of new equipment in the first year of their investment, an effort the Farm Bureau had pushed. Before 2018, most agricultural machinery and equipment had to be depreciated over seven years, according to the IRS.
“In every decision we make, we are honoring America’s proud farming legacy,” Trump said.
Trump signed the executive order on rural broadband Internet service at a table on stage. It declares the executive branch will “use all viable tools” to accelerate the deployment and adoption of affordable and reliable broadband connectivity in rural America.
Executive departments “should seek to reduce barriers to capital investment, remove obstacles to broadband services and more efficiently employ government resources,” the order goes on to say.
“Those towers are going to go up, and you’re going to have great, great broadband,” Trump said, flanked by the state’s Tennessee Republican congressional delegation as well as its GOP governor, Bill Haslam. The order does not appear to allocate any financial resources to the broadband effort, an area that also has been Haslam’s priority.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will be required to develop a plan to support rural broadband deployment, according to a memo to the secretary from the White House.
Although some farmers were hoping the president would discuss key industry issues, Trump’s speech contained little in terms of substance about the expiring Farm Bill, the omnibus legislation that governs food and agriculture programs; the North American Free Trade Agreement; and immigrant workers. Trump did vow to seek a farm bill that includes crop insurance subsidies, a key for the nation’s farmers.
“Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” he said as the audience laughed. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”
Several times, Trump proudly discussed his administration’s cuts of federal regulations, which he said have burdened businesses and farmers. He accused Democrats of wanting to raise taxes and said his opponent during last year’s presidential election would have been bad for farmers.
In a statement before Trump’s arrival, Tennessee’s Democratic Party chairwoman, Mary Mancini, pointed to the rising number of closed rural hospital in the state, which she blamed on the Republican-led state legislature’s refusal to accept federal Medicaid dollar. She also slammed Republican efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.
“This isn’t just a health-care issue,” she said. “People in rural communities are struggling to keep a roof over their head and buy food for their families because there are no jobs available that can sustain a family. Businesses will not go to communities that don’t have a hospital.”
The president’s executive order coincides with the release of recommendations from a task force established last year that seeks to make several improvements to the country’s rural areas. The task force’s recommendations are set to include measures seeking to enhance broadband access, improving quality of life, generate a reliable workforce, advance technological innovations and economic development.
Trump’s widespread support in the nation’s rural counties enabled him to pull off his election victory upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton last year. His rural base has remained committed to the president as his poll ratings have plunged nationally.
Trump is the first president to address the American Farm Bureau Federation since George H. W. Bush in 1992. His visit to Nashville was his second since taking office last year; he staged a campaign rally in March and visiting the historic home of President Andrew Jackson.
For his latest trip, Sen. Bob Corker and Reps. Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Phil Roe, David Kustoff and Chuck Fleischmann, all Tennessee Republicans, joined Trump on Air Force One. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, was also on board.
Corker, who has been in a public spat with the president for weeks, trailed Trump down the stairs of Air Force One after arriving in Nashville. Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Scott DesJarlais, all Republicans, were among the dignitaries who greeted Trump at the airport.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, a Democrat, was not at the airport. A spokesman cited scheduling conflicts.
Ahead of Trump’s visit, protesters and supporters clashed at a site where spectators gathered.
At one point, two Trump supporters approached a man in all black carrying an Antifa flag representing the far-left anti-fascist group. After they traded insults, one of the Trump supporters held out a lighter. He later said he thought about burning the flag.
A different Trump supporter raised his hand in a Nazi salute before walking away.
Minutes later, another man walked up and knocked a protest sign to the ground. The man picked up a rock and paused. He eventually walked away.
Police officers standing nearby did not intervene during either altercation.
The majority of the rain-soaked supporters and protesters were peaceful,
Trump departed Nashville at about 4:15 p.m. ET for Atlanta to attend the National Championship football game between the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia. He then was scheduled to return to the White House.