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Trump Returns To The Road With Arizona Trip To Mask-Maker

President Trump toured a Honeywell International Inc. factory producing N95 masks during in Phoenix on Tuesday, his first trip since widespread COVID-19 related lockdowns went into effect.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump toured a Honeywell International Inc. factory producing N95 masks during in Phoenix on Tuesday, his first trip since widespread COVID-19 related lockdowns went into effect.

Updated at 7:00 p.m. ET

As President Trump attempts to project an image of America rising out of quarantine and beginning to reopen, he traveled on Tuesday to an Arizona factory that's expanded into production of N95 face masks to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

And while the trip was in part meant to tell a positive story about the Trump administration's response, it also highlights the challenges of the moment.

Arizona remains under a modified stay-at-home order until May 15, though Republican Gov. Doug Ducey allowed some retail establishments to begin to open voluntarily Monday. The state hasn't yet notched the two consecutive weeks of reduced COVID-19 cases called for as a first step in the White House guidelines for reopening. In fact, the number of confirmed cases in the state is on the rise.

And Trump's trip itself was anything but normal. Those traveling with the president or coming in close proximity to him in Arizona were tested for the coronavirus.

Attendees to the president's remarks, about 70 or so people, wore masks and were seated spaced apart from one another.

During his speech, largely read from prepared remarks, Trump praised the "patriotic and hardworking men and women" of Honeywell.

"You're making high quality N95 respirators, and they are made to perfection. There's no bad masks. Like various countries have been sent some very bad masks from other places. There's nothing like that at Honeywell," Trump told workers at the facility.

President Trump walks to the White House on Sunday, after returning from Camp David in Maryland.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump walks to the White House on Sunday, after returning from Camp David in Maryland.

"You're part of this incredible industrial mobilization-- the biggest since World War II," he said. "You make America proud."

Asked last week if he would wear a mask on the trip, Trump was noncommittal.

"I'm going to have to look at the climate. I'd have no problem wearing a mask. I don't know," Trump said at the White House. "I'm supposed to make a speech. I just don't know: Should I speak in a mask? You're going to have to tell me if that's politically correct. I don't know. If it is, I'll speak in a mask."

He ultimately opted against the mask, though some other speakers at the event wore them and stood distanced from the president.

Vice President Mike Pence faced criticism for not wearing a mask while visiting the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota last week, in apparent violation of the center's policy. Sitting next to Trump at a televised town hall Sunday night, Pence said he "should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic."

Pence has left Washington, D.C., a few times recently — a series of trips the White House used in part as test runs for Trump to get back on the road.

Different than the big rallies

Tuesday's travel is a far cry from Trump's last trip to Arizona, for a campaign rally on Feb. 19. He didn't mention the coronavirus in his speech that night, and when asked about it in an interview with a local TV reporter, he downplayed the risk.

"I think it's going to work out fine," Trump told Fox 10 Phoenix. "I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus. So let's see what happens, but I think it's going to work out fine."

As of Monday morning, more than 350 deaths had been attributed to COVID-19 in Arizona, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, with about 68,000 deaths nationwide.

Trump still yearns for those big rallies of the not-so-distant past, musing about the day when he can pack arenas again and not have to have people spaced 6 feet apart. But for now, he's relishing the idea of escaping the confines of the White House. Aside from a trip to the presidential retreat at Camp David last weekend, this will be Trump's first trip away from the White House since March 28, when he sent off the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort in Norfolk, Va. While it's been a little more than a month, Trump has described himself as stuck at the White House "for many months."

In Phoenix, Trump toured a Honeywell aerospace manufacturing facility that freed up space to start making N95 respirator masks. According to a company spokesman, the first masks rolled off the line on April 30, ahead of schedule. Once up to full capacity, it will make 10 million of the masks per month. The company said it would be adding 500 employees to make the masks. A Honeywell factory in Rhode Island also started making masks last month. Most of them are headed to the federal government, which is distributing the protective equipment. Mask shortages have been a major concern for health care workers treating patients with the highly contagious coronavirus.

Battleground state

Although there isn't officially a political component to the trip, Arizona is a state Trump won in 2016, but that Democrats expect to be competitive in 2020. During his Tuesday remarks, Trump made sure to mention his earlier success in the state.

"I'm thrilled to be in the fantastic state of Arizona. I love Arizona," Trump said to cheers.

"I had some good moments here. Especially on Election Day. It was a good moment, right?"

Trump's visit clearly underscores how he isn't taking anything for granted in the state in 2020. His goal is to remind voters how the Arizona economy was booming before the pandemic.

"Arizona is a state where President Trump's campaign will be aggressive, where we have had a presence since 2015," said Erin Perrine, principal deputy communications director for the reelection campaign. "We will reach voters where ever they are — sharing the message that only President Trump can bring back the booming Trump economy and highlighting his strong leadership during the coronavirus."

For several election cycles, Democrats have been eyeing Arizona as a state they might put in the presidential win column. Analysts say Democrats challenge will be to win in the suburbs and get a solid turnout from Hispanics, even as the pandemic's effect on campaigning and on the actual process of voting is yet to be known. No Democratic nominee had carried the state since Bill Clinton in 1996. In 2016, there was talk of a late play for the state by Hillary Clinton's campaign, but that was seen more as overconfidence than her actually have a real shot at winning there. Then, when the votes were counted, Trump won the presidency, including a victory in Arizona, but his margin in the state was only 3.5%.

Four years earlier, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried the state over President Obama by more than 9 percentage points. Democrats took Trump winning so narrowly in the state as a sign that maybe the future was closer than people realized. Longtime GOP strategist Chuck Coughlin says Democrats kept the storyline going two years later by winning four statewide offices, including an open U.S. Senate seat and secretary of state. Now, Coughlin says, "There is a trend line going on, Republicans have had to acknowledge that, and the swing voters have become more important — independents and Republican suburban women." He says those are the keys to a Democratic victory in the state.

An average of recent polls shows former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, leading in head-to-head matchups. Although horse race polling this far out, and especially in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, isn't necessarily predictive, it's one of a few causes for alarm for Republicans.

In 2018, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won an open U.S. Senate seat in Arizona. Another Senate seat is up in 2020, and the latest campaign finance reports show Democratic challenger Mark Kelly with nearly twice as much cash on hand as incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally. Kelly has also led in recent polls.

McSally portrays herself as a strong ally of Trump's, even echoing his style of negative campaigning. Here's how she began her remarks when Trump called her up to speak at that big rally in February: "I just want to say I have a message for the liberal hack media in the back," she told the noisy crowd. "Arizona is going to vote in November to keep America great and send President Trump back to the White House."

In April McSally tweeted that she was able to secure ventilators for her state after talking to Trump.

"Huge news for Arizona!" McSally tweeted. "I spoke with @realDonaldTrump on Wednesday afternoon to request additional ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile. Today, POTUS delivers with 100 ventilators headed to AZ. Thank you to President Trump and @VP for hearing our call."

The affection was returned to McSally during Trump's speech at the Honeywell facility, with the president calling the junior senator a "fantastic person."

"She's fighting to uncover the full truth about the China situation and how the World Health Organization handled the outbreak and what happened. There must be transparency and accountability," he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.