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Trump talks coal, gas, steel in Wheeling

PRESIDENT’S ARRIVAL — President Donald Trump disembarks Wednesday from Air Force One at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport. Behind him is U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Trump was in Wheeling for a private campaign fundraiser at WesBanco Arena. -- Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — President Donald Trump sounded familiar themes — among them economic growth, foreign policy, immigration and health care — during his speech to a friendly crowd in Wheeling on Wednesday. But his biggest applause lines were when he talked about coal, natural gas and steel.

Trump was at WesBanco Arena for a private fundraiser arranged by Murray Energy President and CEO Robert Murray. Almost 1,000 people attended.

He referred to former President Barack Obama’s policies as “a disaster for the coal industry,” then listed various regulatory initiatives his administration has rolled back or is in the process of altering.

That has meant “$40 billion in relief to the American coal industry,” Trump said to applause from a crowd, including many who work in it.

In contrast, had Obama-era programs remained in place, “the coal industry would have been gone,” the president said.

There is evidence the industry is making a comeback, Trump said, noting that U.S. coal exports last year were 92 percent higher than the previous 12 months.

His comments were aimed partly at rank-and-file miners. Important new measures to protect miners’ health and safety are being implemented in Australia, Trump said, adding to applause that, “We’re following suit.”

More applause came when he discussed efforts, including new tariffs, to protect U.S. steel companies against foreign competition.

“Our steel companies are coming back,” Trump said, adding, “No business has come back as big as the steel industry.”

And, there was talk about natural gas, with the president noting that industry was given a boost by his administration’s approval of major interstate pipelines such as the Keystone XL project.

There was a reference to Wednesday’s big national news — former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress. Trump had little to say about Mueller, other than to comment, “I wouldn’t say that performance was too good.”

Wednesday’s event drew governors, top legislators and members of Congress from West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, with several drawing commendations from Trump. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice returned the favor, telling the crowd that when he telephones Trump for help with a state-related issue, “He always takes my call.” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine paid tribute to Trump’s “commitment to the coal industry.”

Murray himself paid high praise to Trump, bringing the audience to its feet in applause by referring to him as “the greatest friend, the biggest champion of the coal industry.”

Outside the arena, demonstrators opposed to and in support of Trump gathered to make their views known.

At least 50 individuals gathered on the west side of Main Street at its intersection with 14th Street, about a block from WesBanco Arena.

On the opposite of Main Street, a smaller number of Trump supporters assembled, occasionally calling out in response to the protesters’ chants.

Liz Prather, a Wheeling resident and an organizer with Marchers Ohio Valley Empowered, said she believed more than 60 people had turned out to protest the current administration and its policies, including representatives of groups such as the Ohio County Democratic Women, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Ohio Valley Pride and various labor leaders.

“The America we love and believe in doesn’t put kids in cages,” Prather said. She termed the president an “autocrat” who “cares more about his feelings and his ego than about the people who are hurting.”

Many members of the crowd opposing Trump were educators, and they were largely focused on the treatment of immigrant children. Jenny Craig, president of the Ohio County Education Association and a teacher at Wheeling Middle School, said she was there as a teacher but not officially on behalf of the union.

“I am here to protest Trump’s education policies and the policies of his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who has no experience in the field,” Craig said. “The cuts to special education are very alarming.”

Craig added that she opposes the privatization of schools using a charter school system, just as she and many other Mountain State teachers have opposed the same issue as state legislators in Charleston debated an education reform “omnibus bill” this year.

On the east side of Main Street, Laurence S. Pelley displayed a large sign in support of the president and said he wants Trump’s work to continue even after he leaves office.

Pelley said he recently moved to Benwood after having lived in Wheeling all his life.

“I came out during Donald Trump’s visit with Bob Murray to show those people across the street that our president is making America great again, that he will keep making America great and that, when he’s done, I’ll run for president and I’ll keep making America great,” Pelley said.

Joe Wade, another Wheeling resident who turned out in support of the president, said he is concerned that it has taken so long for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to receive compensation.

He said Trump would have “got their benefits in a week.” The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved permanent compensation for first responders who have suffered health effects after working at Ground Zero in New York City following the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

Wade also called Trump a “philanthropist,” saying he did not run for president because he needed the money or wanted to achieve celebrity. Instead, Wade believes Trump sought the office because he has lived a “blessed life with his money and everything” and that, as a result, he wants to help his fellow Americans.

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