Trump in Ohio: ‘I don’t know what that means, a community college’
RICHFIELD, Ohio - President Donald Trump flew here Thursday to promote his infrastructure plan, but after a week of seclusion as he has been besieged by an adult-film star’s allegations of an affair and by news on the Russia probe, he delivered his thoughts on a variety of topics, from the midterm elections to his North Korea talks.
Trump threatened to delay finalizing his renegotiated trade deal with South Korea until after he meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and resolves the nuclear confrontation with Kim’s rogue nation.
‘‘I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea,’’ Trump said. ‘‘You know why? Because it’s a very strong card and I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly and we’re moving along very nicely with North Korea.’’
Regarding his still-unscheduled upcoming meeting with Kim, Trump said, ‘‘If it’s no good, we’re walking, and if it’s good, we will embrace it.’’
Trump’s speech felt at times like a stream of consciousness commentary reminiscent of his signature campaign rallies from 2016, as he zigzagged from his prepared text on infrastructure policy to his thoughts on issues of the day, like this week’s debut of the remake of ‘‘Roseanne.’’
‘‘Look at her ratings!’’ the president said of Roseanne Barr, the Trump supporter who is the show’s star. Its two-episode premiere drew 18.2 million viewers.
Rallying union engineers and maintenance workers inside a chilly and dirt-floored industrial barn here in Richfield, on the outskirts of Cleveland, Trump used his official, taxpayer-funded visit to warn his political supporters against complacency in the fall midterm elections.
As Trump told it, the country was headed in the wrong direction - until he took office. ‘‘There’s never been an economy like this,’’ he boasted. ‘‘We can’t lose that by getting hurt in the midterms, so we can’t be complacent.’’
Trump promised to repair the nation’s ailing roads, bridges and other infrastructure ‘‘from a source of endless frustration into a source of absolutely incredible pride.’’
‘‘And we’re going to do it all under budget and ahead of schedule,’’ the president promised, seeming to look past the reality that his $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan has little apparent momentum on Capitol Hill. The plan has received only tepid support from Congress since the administration unveiled it earlier this year.
Chief among the infrastructure projects Trump promoted here was his long-promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
‘‘We’re getting that sucker built!’’ Trump said. ‘‘That’s what I do. I build. I was always very good at building. It was my best thing. I think better than being president, I was always very good at building.’’
Trump’s visit to Ohio is his first public appearance this week - a notable absence from the spotlight for a president who relishes the give-and-take with reporters and typically has daily opportunities for the media to see him doing his job.
Trump has not been seen in public since porn actress Stormy Daniels appeared last Sunday night on ‘‘60 Minutes,’’ detailing her allegations of a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
An estimated 22 million Americans watched the CBS broadcast - including the president, aides said, who fumed about it privately but withheld any public comments or counterattacks. White House spokespeople said Trump categorically denied all the allegations made by Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
In his Ohio speech, Trump remained silent on the Daniels saga and instead talked about a medley of issues that animate the working-class voters who voted for him. He talked about defeating Islamic State terrorists, renegotiating trade deals, investing in the military, nominating conservative judges and cracking down on illegal immigration.
Trump speech was reminiscent of his campaign rallies. Indeed, he twice mentioned his 2016 foe, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Bemoaning the U.S. trade agreement with South Korea, which his administration renegotiated this week, Trump called the KORUS deal ‘‘a Hillary Clinton special’’ - perhaps because she was secretary of state when former president Barack Obama negotiated the last iteration of the agreement in 2010. But the treaty was first executed in 2007, during the George W. Bush administration.
As is typical for Trump, the president appeared at several times to veer off his prepared remarks on infrastructure policy to interject with comments perhaps designed to appeal to his audience.
‘‘I don’t know what that means, a community college,’’ Trump said at one point. ‘‘Call it vocational and technical. People know what that means. They don’t know what a community college means.’’
As he left the Oval Office on Thursday morning to begin his trip to Ohio, Trump bade farewell to Hope Hicks, one of his longest-serving aides and closest confidantes. Hicks is leaving her post as White House communications director.
Trump is set to join his family Thursday evening in Palm Beach, Florida, where he will spend the Easter holiday weekend at his private Mar-a-Lago estate. First lady Melania Trump and the couple’s 12-year-old son, Barron, have been at Mar-a-Lago for the full week on what aides called a traditional spring break.
Trump’s two daughters joined him on the trip to Ohio and onto Florida: Ivanka Trump, a White House senior adviser who helps steer the infrastructure agenda, and Tiffany Trump, a law student.