Trump to visit battleground Pennsylvania after supporting closed counties' push to reopen

ALLENTOWN, Penn. — President Donald Trump is set to visit Pennsylvania on Thursday, his second trip in as many weeks to an electoral battleground state as he pushes for the country’s economy to reopen.

Trump is expected to visit a Lehigh Valley medical equipment company which has been sending personal protective equipment nationwide as part of an effort to bring masks, gowns and gloves to the U.S. from overseas.

Owens & Minor was one of five companies selected by the Department of Health and Human Services to supply 600 million N95 respirator masks over the next 18 months, according to the company’s website. The president is expected to make remarks to employees who have been supporting that effort. The company’s President and CEO Ed Pesicka appeared with Trump and other business leaders at a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden in March.

Trump’s visit to the Keystone State — an important one for him to carry in the general election — comes as several rural, conservative counties express frustration toward Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to reopen certain parts of the state while others remain closed — despite a low number of positive cases and death counts. A protest is also set for Friday in Harrisburg in support of reopening the state.

May 11, 202006:39

“Overall I support the president, but nobody really has a handle on this, nobody has a plan. We need to trust our doctors,” Nathan Brown, a Lehigh County commissioner told NBC News. “Is he campaigning? Is he saying thank you to the medical facility out of the sincereness of his heart? I don’t know. I just know he’s coming here and hopefully it doesn’t create a mass hysteria.”

Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by only 1.2 percentage points but a recent Fox News poll put him behind apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 8 points. Less than six months out from the general election, the president is looking to resolidify support in the state after its agriculture and manufacturing industries suffered from the impact of tariffs he imposed on China and the trade war.

Trump tweeted in support of Pennsylvanians looking to reopen the state Monday, while the governor called counties looking to reopen early “cowardly” and “selfish,” and threatened to withhold federal stimulus money and revoke small business licenses.

Businesses in Lancaster County plan to move to the first phase of reopening — from “red” to the “yellow” — on Friday without Wolf’s approval because it has already received $95 million from CARES Act funding. Smaller counties have had to wait for the state to distribute funds.

“We’re beyond frustrated; the governor’s guidelines have been very subjective,” Lancaster County Commissioner Joshua Parsons told NBC News. “We want to safely bring the economy back. Working people are being crushed and their businesses destroyed.”

In Lehigh County, local elected officials aren’t looking to explicitly defy the governor, but are hoping he’ll allow them to move to the “yellow” phase in order to give business owners a choice to reopen.

May 3, 202001:41

“I was really offended by that,” Brown said, referring to Wolf’s threat to withhold stimulus money. “I don’t think we’re a bunch of cowards. We’re boots on the ground telling the governor to open up the county or other counties, because of what we’re seeing at local levels. We all have to fight this together, and it’s a shame it’s becoming a Republican vs. Democrat fight.”

Shelby Lawson called Trump’s visit a “touchy subject.” Her sewing shop in Bethlehem lost all of its business upon its closure, missing out on her prime season of alterations for prom and wedding dresses.

“I respect the office, but my heart of hearts tells me that if he’d taken action immediately, we wouldn’t be in the state that we are now,” Lawson said. “I will not be voting for him. I just do not feel that he’s represented me and family well.”

Meanwhile, Chad Balliet, who owns a bicycle shop and cafe in Emmaus, has grown frustrated that the pandemic has become a political issue. He’s had to furlough 11 of his employees as he runs bike repairs via curbside dropoff as an essential business and would rather the focus be on the medical response so that small businesses can start to reopen.

“I don’t know how long small businesses can bleed and hemorrhage like we have been,” Balliet said. Of the president’s visit on Thursday: “You like the guy or you don’t like the guy — at the end of the day he is our president, and I believe he’s trying his hardest to lead our country through something that it hasn’t experienced in anybody’s lifetime. It’s a very difficult thing.”