GRANITE CITY — President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis had plenty of praise for one another Thursday as the president visited an southwestern Illinois steel mill where laid-off workers recently went back to work.
Trump acknowledged Davis, a Taylorville Republican, and U.S. Reps. Mike Bost and John Shimkus during his speech to several hundred employees and supporters at the mill in Granite City, with the president calling the trio “very special people.”
"They fight for you, those three people fight for you all the time,” Trump told the crowd. “In fact, they fight so much that I sometimes say 'I don't want to take their call today.’”
About 800 workers were called back to the massive Granite City Works in Madison County after the president in March announced tariffs would be placed on foreign steel. The levies were aimed mainly at China, which had been accused of dumping steel into the U.S. market at lower costs.
China in response imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of U.S. imports — a retaliation to Trump's tariffs on an equivalent amount of Chinese goods. One of the items is soybeans, which account for $3 billion in exports from Illinois, the largest U.S. producer of the crop last year.
Davis, whose heavily agricultural district includes part of Madison County but not Granite City, said he told Trump in person on Thursday about how the tariffs are affecting Central Illinois farmers.
With news Wednesday night that the United States has reached a trade compromise with the European Union that will, in part, will lead to the EU increasing imports of U.S. liquefied natural gas and soybeans, Davis said he knows the administration understands farmers' concerns and will continue to work in their best interest.
“I’ve been telling the administration for weeks that farmers in Central Illinois trust that he’s doing the right thing for farmers to ensure that we have markets available to get our products out in the global marketplace,” Davis said in a telephone interview after Trump's appearance. “But we need to see results. And frankly, we saw results last night, when we had the agreement between the U.S. and the EU.
“That’s a big deal to our farmers, and I think it gives them optimism that we will see more positive movement when it comes to really allowing the administration to focus on the bad actors like China.”
Davis had nothing but positive things to say about Trump when talking about the event, praising Trump as a “very friendly, very jovial (and) affable person” willing to meet with lawmakers to discuss issues affecting their constituents.
Davis is seen as a top target by Democrats as they seek to retake control of the House. His opponent, Springfield’s Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, previously called for Davis to “tell (Trump) to his face that his trade war is hurting our farmers and communities across the 13th District.”
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner skipped the event, saying he had other events that conflicted with the visit. He signed legislation in Peoria and held a campaign event in suburban Chicago.
Rauner is in a difficult re-election fight against Democratic opponent J.B. Pritzker in a state Hillary Clinton easily won over Trump in 2016. The governor has expressed support for Trump in recent months after avoiding mentioning his name for most of his time in office.
Pritzker on Wednesday said it was obvious that Rauner was avoiding spending any time with Trump and had been reluctant to criticize the president for policies that hurt Illinois, a claim the governor's spokesman denied.
Among those in attendance Thursday also included Dan Caulkins of Decatur, a candidate in the 101st Illinois House District. Talking after the event, Caulkins said Trump’s speech was a celebration of a promise made good to focus on bringing back American jobs.
“He was delivering on his promises and even though it had been only a year and a half, he was very proud, so was everyone else in the crowd,” Caulkins said. “He said he was going to do this, by golly, and the crowd acknowledged that and he talked about it wasn't just this plant, steel and aluminum smelting plants are opening across the country, jobs are returning.”
The Associated Press, the State Journal-Register and the Herald & Review's Tom Lisi contributed to this story.
Contact Ryan Voyles at (217) 421-7985. Follow him on Twitter: @RVVoyles