Connecting state and local government leaders
President Trump spoke at the National Association of Counties legislative meeting in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, pledging to deliver help to public health departments working on the coronavirus.
WASHINGTON – President Trump on Tuesday promised county leaders that his administration will continue to be a “friend, partner, ally and resource” to local governments, but steered clear of making any promises about infrastructure investments that many have lobbied for in recent years.
County leaders “will always have a very important seat at the table,” Trump vowed while addressing a crowd at the National Association of Counties legislative meeting.
Providing a brief update on federal efforts to contain the coronavirus, Trump said public health officials are “working aggressively” to develop a vaccine and urged counties to share basic health and safety practices.
“We know our county health officials play a frontline role in battling public health threats and we are working with Congress very closely to pass supplemental legislation that ensures state and county public health departments get everything they need,” Trump said.
During a wide-ranging, 45-minute speech before the friendly crowd, Trump drew several standing ovations as he promoted his administration’s efforts to cut regulations and acknowledged the burden county jails bear in housing people suffering from mental illnesses.
“We’ve cut taxes, we’ve cut regulation,” Trump said to cheers from the audience. “We take sometimes 20, 21 years to get approval for a highway. We think we have it down to two, I want to get it down to one.”
Trump also invited two county leaders on stage to speak briefly about federal aid his administration provided.
One county commissioner, Rebecca Long of Lea County, New Mexico, said the administration was able to help the county more quickly procure drilling and right away permits on Bureau of Land Management property. Those actions have dramatically increased the amount of oil the county is able to produce, Long said.
“We are getting those faster so that is helping America be energy independent,” Long said.
Trump also spoke about the strength of the American economy, highlighting investment in Opportunity Zones and trade deals inked this year by his administration, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which will replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
The president touted growth in rural economies, in a nod to the rural nature of many of the counties across the country, before acknowledging that his assertion might not pass muster with media factcheckers. (Research studies have consistently shown that rural communities are not making the same kind of economic gains as metropolitan areas.)
“Our economy is prospering like never before,” Trump said, adding his administration is making efforts to move manufacturing back into the US.
To continue investing in local economies, Trump stressed the need to expand access to vocational and technical education.
The president did not make any commitments to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, a major priority among local government leaders. In his State of the Union speech this year, Trump made only a passing reference to the issue, calling for on Congress to pass the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, a five-year reauthorization bill.
But touching on another area of importance to local officials, Trump said he was empathetic to the burden counties face in addressing the issues of homelessness and mental illness.
“County jails were not meant to deal with the mental illness problem,” he said, drawing a standing ovation. “It’s not compassionate to leave those with mental illness on the streets… We must get Americans the help they need.”
Trump has previously expressed disgust over the scope of the homelessness crisis in California. Officials in that state, however, have countered that the Trump administration’s policies are not geared toward getting people into housing.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.