Connecting with rural Americans, President Donald Trump on Monday hailed his tax overhaul as a victory for family farmers and pitched his vision to expand access to broadband internet, a cornerstone of economic development in the nation's heartland.
"Those towers are going to go up and you're going to have great, great broadband," Trump told the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
"Farm country is God's country," he declared.
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Trump became the first president in a quarter-century to address the federation's convention, using the trip to Nashville as a backdrop for a White House report that included proposals to stimulate a segment of the national economy that has lagged behind others. His Southern swing also included a stop in Atlanta for the national college football championship game.
Joined by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and a group of Tennessee lawmakers, Trump said most of the benefits of the tax legislation are "going to working families, small businesses, and who — the family farmer."
The package Trump signed into law last month provides generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families.
The president vastly inflated the value of the package in his speech, citing "a total of $5.5 trillion in tax cuts, with most of those benefits going to working families, small businesses and who? The family farmer." The estimated value of the tax cuts is actually $1.5 trillion for families and businesses because of cuts in deductions and the use of other steps to generate offsetting tax revenue.
The president warned against voting for Democrats in this November's midterm elections, saying they would undo the tax bill. "If the Democrats ever had the chance, the first thing they would do is get rid of it and raise up your taxes," Trump said.
"Oh, are you happy you voted for me," he added. "You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege."
Trump also highlighted the doubling of the threshold for the estate tax — earning a standing ovation from the audience— and the ability for companies to immediately write off the full cost of new equipment. He said that "in every decision we make, we are honoring America's proud farming legacy."
Central to the report is the assessment that the "provider for an equalization among rural America is connectivity; that high-speed internet should remain a high priority for the administration," said Ray Starling, the special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance. The report calls for expediting federal permitting to allow for broadband internet expansion in rural areas and for making it easier for providers to place cell towers on federal lands.
Trump signed an executive order following his speech on rural broadband, aimed at easing the process to put private broadband infrastructure on federal property. The White House described the move, along with a memorandum directing the Interior Department to work on a plan to increase access to their facilities for broadband deployment, as "incremental," but the start of an effort to make progress on the issue.
White House officials said all work was in the early stages and did not offer an overall timeline. Officials noted the price tag for rural broadband expansion has been estimated at $80 billion, but said the administration had not determined a cost.
The president also took credit for working to roll back the Obama administration's interpretation of the Clean Water Act, which had greatly expanded the list of bodies of water subject to federal regulation. The Farm Bureau ran a public relations campaign against the rule and called it "dangerous and unlawful."
The Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force report highlights the importance of addressing the opioid crisis, which has disproportionately affected rural communities.
Trump also called on Congress to renew the farm bill this year, adding he supports providing for federal crop insurance. The massive federal legislation funds federal agriculture and food policy, and it offers assistance to rural communities.
From Nashville, Trump was traveling to Atlanta to watch Alabama's Crimson Tide and Georgia's Bulldogs face off Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship. The game is set for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new $1.5 billion home field of the Atlanta Falcons.
Before departing for the game, Trump referenced his ongoing defense of the American flag and the national anthem, saying there was enough space for to people to express their views. "We love our flag and we love our anthem and we want to keep it that way," he said.
ESPN, which is televising the game, said Sunday that it appeared unlikely Trump would be interviewed during the game. Stephanie Druley, ESPN senior vice president for events and studio programs, said the network had been in contact with the White House and she did not "get the sense" that an interview would be arranged.
Trump criticized ESPN in October in response to "SportsCenter" host Jemelle Hill tweeting that the president was a "white supremacist."
A network often seeks an interview with the president when he attends a game it's televising.