By Sami Sparber, Texas Tribune
President Donald Trump touted the recent passage of a new North American trade deal as he spoke to thousands of farmers and ranchers Sunday at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention in Austin.
The president’s 14th visit to Texas since he took office came days after Congress passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement — and the U.S. Senate opened his impeachment trial.
“I’m thrilled to be back in this incredible state of Texas,” Trump said at the start of his hour-long speech. “This is where people are known for being tough and strong and hardworking, loyal, fiercely patriotic, just like America’s incredible farmers.”
The new trade agreement, negotiated by Trump, was heralded as a win for farmers and ranchers in Texas, which has more ports of entry than any other state in the U.S.
“It’s being prepared now, beautifully prepared,” Trump said of the legislation, which he is expected to sign this week. “Everyone wants to come back to America.”
The USMCA deal was the last major piece of legislation the Senate addressed ahead of Trump’s impeachment trial, where Democratic Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Houston will help prosecute the case against him — and Texas’ Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are expected to fervently defend him. Former Baylor University President Kenneth Starr, well known for investigating former President Bill Clinton, has joined Trump’s impeachment defense team.
“We’re achieving what no administration has ever achieved before,” Trump said. “And what do I get for it? I get impeached!”
“But that’s OK the farmers are sticking with Trump,” he added.
The Texas Democratic Party countered many of those notions.
“Trump’s trade wars, broken promises, and economic policies have failed farmers, time and time again,” Bill Brannon, the party’s senior rural advisor, said in a statement. “Under the Trump Administration, farm bankruptcies have substantially risen and hardworking families continue to get left behind. Trump’s brazen disregard for them and their interests is yet another example of his disregard for people who work for a living. Texas farmers will be the reason why Trump loses Texas in 2020.”
Trump also spoke briefly on immigration and border security. He said the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, one of his top campaign promises, is being built “at a very rapid pace.”
“We want them [people] to come legally, and we want them to help the farmers,” Trump said. “Just so you understand, I want them coming to help the farmers.”
Outside the Austin Convention Center, demonstrators gathered to both support and protest Trump’s visit. Supporters waved Trump-Pence campaign flags while protestors held signs denouncing animal products, including one that mimicked Trump saying, “Dead animals fund my campaign.”
When the President’s motorcade arrived at the convention center, demonstrators chanted dueling messages: “Lock him up” versus “Four more years.”
Josh Watson, a vegetable farmer from North Carolina who attended Trump’s speech, acknowledged that many farmers — himself included — have struggled financially in the years since Trump took office. He compared waiting for the new USMCA deal to getting hair waxed.
“It’s gonna hurt,” Watson said. “It’s gonna look bad for a little while. But eventually, it’s gonna be really nice.”
Watson said Trump was hardly his first-choice candidate in 2016, but said he “can’t deny” that Trump’s presidency has improved the economy. Now, nearly four years later, he proudly dons a “Make Farming Great Again” hat.
Stephanie Mackey, a soybean farmer from Kentucky, saw Trump speak at the Farm Bureau conventions in 2017 and 2018. This year, she brought her kids and one of her kids’ friends.
Mackey said her soybean prices hit “rock bottom” during the U.S. trade war with China, but she’s hopeful the U.S.-China trade deal that Trump signed last week will help farmers bounce back.
“When you go to the market or try to get your contracts and the prices are just rock bottom, you’re just like, “Come on, there’s gotta be something they can do,’” Mackey said. “And Trump got it done.”
Trump during his speech acknowledged the hard times farmers have faced as a result of his policies, but promised “the best days for Americans and the best days for farmers and ranchers are yet to come.”
“Thank you very much to the farmers and ranchers for staying with me and for saying, ‘the President is right,” Trump said. ‘“Yes, it’s tough right now, but the president is doing the right thing.”‘
Trump also told the crowd that Texas will remain in Republican hands in November, despite many political experts saying it looks more purple than it has in years.
In recalling the 2016 election, when he won Texas by 9 percentage points, Trump was optimistic Sunday about his chances in the Lone Star State this year — thanks in part to the Texas officials who back him.
“I remember the 2016 election, and the fake news … said Trump is gonna have a hard time winning Texas,” Trump said. “And I said, why am I going to have a hard time in Texas? And I remember [Texas Agriculture Commissioner] Sid Miller … sitting there with his hat on. And he said, ‘I don’t know about you, and I don’t know where you’re getting this information about a close race in Texas, but there’s going to be nothing close about this race in Texas. Trump is going to win this race by so much you won’t believe it.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”