Amid record COVID-19 activity in Wisconsin, President Trump held a rally in Janesville Saturday night where he downplayed the severity of the pandemic and criticized Gov. Tony Evers’ attempts to enforce public health guidelines.
Trump’s campaign rally was held outdoors at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport. According to the Trump campaign, attendees were required to undergo temperature checks before the event. They had access to hand sanitizer and were given masks which they were instructed to wear although most attendees did not wear masks, according to WPR.
Trump reiterated his “law and order” message and took credit for the state National Guard’s response to protests in Kenosha. Trump also focused on the economy and mentioned Foxconn, which the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced will not be receiving state tax credits after failing to hire enough employees.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., appeared at the event after recently testing positive for COVID-19. Ahead of the event, Johnson mentioned recent protests in Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake.
“You know who doesn’t particularly like America? Joe Biden supporters. People who are taking to the streets. These are supposed to be peaceful protests that turn into riots and burn down buildings in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin,” Johnson told reporters.
Trump downplayed the pandemic at the rally, which has killed 1,574 Wisconsinites as of Oct. 16, according to state Department of Health Services data. The President also criticized Gov. Tony Evers, whose mask mandate is facing a new lawsuit for his attempts to limit the spread of the virus. Evers’ recent order limiting public gatherings and capacity in restaurants to 25 percent was temporarily blocked Wednesday.
"I wish you had a Republican governor, because you've got to open your state up," Trump said. "You've got to open it up. You've got to open your schools up."
At a media briefing Thursday, Evers said Trump was “encouraging a super spreader event” by holding the Janesville rally.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi urged Trump to “share a vision” for improving the situation in Wisconsin during his visit in neighboring Rock County.
"Mr. President – you're coming to the new national epicenter of this pandemic. Please use this opportunity to tell our state how you are going to stop this scourge. Share a vision this weekend for getting Wisconsin out of the depths of this public health crisis,” Parisi said in a statement.
Rock County recorded 194 new positive cases and 236 hospitalizations on Oct. 16, as well as 38 cumulative deaths, according to state DHS data.
A White House Coronavirus Task Force report released Oct. 11 said Wisconsin is in the “red zone” for cases and test positivity. The report’s recommendations included continuing mitigation efforts like mask wearing, physical distancing and avoiding crowds.
“We share the concern of the state health officials that the current situation can continue to worsen. Wisconsin’s ability to limit further and avoid increases in hospitalizations and deaths will depend on increased observation of social distancing mitigation measures by the community until cases decline,” the report, obtained by CBS 58, said.
Trump’s event comes two weeks after he cancelled rallies planned for Janesville and Green Bay after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Ahead of Trump’s visit to Wisconsin, Democratic nominee Joe Biden released a statement highlighting Wisconsin’s COVID-19 outbreak.
“Wisconsin is in the grips of one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country,” Biden said. “President Trump is knowingly downplaying the severity of the virus. At virtually every turn, he has panicked and tried to wish it away, rather than doing the hard work to get it under control.”
On the same day as the president’s Janesville rally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes appeared at a drive-in get-out-the-vote event in Madison in support of Biden.
Trump also visited Michigan on Saturday, another critical battleground state. Trump highlighted Wisconsin as a key swing state during the Janesville rally.
“If we win Wisconsin, we win the whole ball game,” Trump said. “You think I’m doing this for my health? I’m not doing this for my health.”
A Marquette Law School poll conducted from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 saw little change in presidential preference after Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Of likely voters in Wisconsin, 46 percent support Biden and 41 support Trump.
state news writer