MILWAUKEE — Air Force One touched down here just before 3 p.m. Tuesday, as Washington remained transfixed by the testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions before a Senate committee investigating Russian interference in last year’s election.
Nearly 800 miles beyond the Beltway, President Trump had other things on his mind.
He emerged from his plane after meeting on board with two Wisconsin families he said had “endured enormous pain under the crushing burden of Obamacare” — Trump’s latest attempt to nudge Congress on stalled legislation revamping the Affordable Care Act.
“These citizens deserve so much better,” Trump told reporters on the tarmac, before being whisked to a technical college 30 minutes away to talk about the importance of vocational training as part of a series of events the White House is billing as “Workforce Development Week.”
“Just arrived in Wisconsin to discuss JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” Trump tweeted while en route with his daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump.
While the president’s travels might not have merited much attention in the nation’s capital, there was at least one sign that he was breaking through in a state that he narrowly won over Democrat Hillary Clinton last year with the help of blue-collar workers: The local affiliate broke away from NBC’s live coverage of the testy Sessions hearing to showcase Trump’s arrival here.
On the way to Waukesha County Technical College, Trump’s motorcade passed a billboard on Interstate 94 that read: “Welcome to Waukesha President Trump.”
Several dozen onlookers greeted the president’s party in the college parking lot, where one man held up a “Make America Great Again” sign.
Besides his daughter, who has focused on workforce development issues since joining the White House, Trump was joined at the college by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) — who touted his state’s low unemployment rate — and two of his Cabinet members, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
During a tour, Trump, his daughter and Walker stopped by several large industrial machines, where operators detailed the skills they are learning.
During a subsequent roundtable discussion at the school, Trump said that what he had seen wasn’t “your normal lecture halls.”
“But in a certain way, they are far more beautiful,” the president said. “You learn incredible skills, like welding and repair.”
“It’s what keeps our nation going,” Trump said of jobs in such trades. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure more young people have opportunities.”
The White House is promising to serve up more substance Wednesday when Trump plans to visit the Labor Department for what aides have characterized as a major announcement about apprenticeships. Trump said the initiative has been dubbed “Earn While You Learn.”
In a briefing for reporters this week, Acosta argued that fostering more apprenticeships in the private sector would help address a “mismatch” between available jobs and prospective employees’ job skills.
As Trump has pushed workforce development this week, critics have charged that other actions he is pursuing would hurt the people he says he wants to help.
Trump has proposed cutting the Labor Department’s budget by 21 percent in fiscal 2018.
That includes a 40 percent cut to the Labor Department’s Wagner-Peyser Employment Service, which supports about 14 million job seekers annually and last year helped nearly 6 million people find jobs. The proposed cuts also include a $1.3 billion reduction to programs that operate under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which Congress reauthorized in a bipartisan move three years ago.
Trump administration officials have argued that money should not be a gauge of a program’s effectiveness and that there is a great deal of duplication across the federal government.
Before leaving Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump appeared at a fundraiser for Walker in downtown Milwaukee, where there was a heavy police presence and a hearty group of protesters.
Walker was a onetime rival for the Republican presidential nomination, but Trump had nothing but praise for him Tuesday.
The president said that he and Walker were engaged in talks with a company about bringing jobs back to the United States.
“Just backstage, we were negotiating with a major, major incredible manufacturer of phones and computers and televisions, and I think they’re going to give the governor a very happy surprise very soon,” Trump said.
He did not name the company.
Danielle Paquette contributed to this report.