NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Conducting his first visit beyond the Beltway since his inauguration four weeks ago, President Trump on Friday stressed his "America First" trade and economic policies during a campaign-like visit to an airplane plant operated by Boeing — a company he has criticized in the past.
"We are going to fight for every last American job," Trump told employees at Boeing as the company rolled out its latest model, the 787-10 Dreamliner ("Dreamliner ... great name," the president said).
During a speech in which he referenced last year's presidential election several times, Trump repeated a policy approach that has drawn opposition from congressional Democrats and some Republicans.
While alluding to his dispute with Boeing over the costs of a new Air Force One model, Trump said he and his administration have persuaded global companies to keep or increase jobs in the United States. In many cases, Trump took credit for corporate plans that were already in the works when he won election in November.
The president also echoed pledges to change trade deals and reduce regulations that he said have encouraged companies to move jobs to other countries; congressional critics say Trump's approach would lead to less trade and higher prices for products at home.
On occasion, Trump specifically mentioned politics, citing his big victory in last year's South Carolina Republican primary ("it was a landslide"). He recycled lines from campaign rallies of the past, telling a supportive crowd at Boeing that "America is going to start winning again."
The White House/Boeing event came the same week as an unsuccessful attempt to unionize the plant.
Trump spoke at a giant hangar inside Boeing's sprawling campus, well away from where any protesters might gather, though South Carolina is a very Republican state.
The president later received a tour of Boeing's new 787-10 Dreamliner, a long-haul airplane that can accommodate more than 300 passengers.
Trump stopped in South Carolina en route to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., where he will spend most of the Presidents Day weekend. The exception: a Saturday trip to Orlando-Melbourne International Airport, where Trump will host the first overt political rally of his presidency.
In making the Boeing plant next to the Charleston airport the site of his first presidential event out in the country, Trump picked a company he has clashed with during his still-young presidency.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who introduced the president at Friday's event, met with Trump in New York during the post-election transition, after Trump slammed the manufacturer in a tweet over a $4 billion price tag for updating Air Force One, the program that provides two 747 aircraft for the president.
Before Trump's speech at Boeing, organizers pulled back the giant door of the hangar, revealing both Air Force One and the Dreamliner. Referring to the three-decade-old presidential plane, Trump said, "what can look so beautiful at 30 as an airplane?"
Trump also said he is nearing a new deal with Boeing for the 747 aircraft that serve as Air Force One. “It looks like we’re getting closer and closer,” he said to applause.
As for the Dreamliner 787-10, which is 18 feet longer than its predecessor and could seat 330 passengers, Trump said: "That is one beautiful airplane ... What an amazing piece of art. What an amazing piece of work.”
The very name Dreamliner "says it all," Trump said, making another political point: “Our country is all about making dreams come true. Over the last number of years, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. But we’re going to make it the case again.”
Trump also commended Boeing for building F-18 Hornets, F-15 Strike Eagles and Apache Helicopters.
"By the way, do you care if we use the F-18 Super Hornets?” Trump asked the crowd while buttering up the Boeing CEO. “We are looking seriously at a big order. The problem is that Dennis is a very, very tough negotiator, but I think we may get there."
Trump has also criticized Boeing over trade and China, though Friday's visit signals increased cooperation.
During the campaign, Trump had complained about Boeing creating a finishing center for 737 airliners in China. But Muilenburg made the point that Boeing provides mostly U.S. jobs while selling most of its products abroad. Boeing is the largest U.S. exporter, with 90% of its workforce in the U.S. and 75% of its sales abroad.
“It’s really important for all of us to understand that healthy trade relationships between the U.S. and China are important," Muilenburg said. "I’m very confident the incoming administration understands that."
He added: “As we increase sales in China, we increase building planes here in the U.S. That’s U.S. manufacturing jobs. It’s a great example of how growth in China creates growth in U.S. manufacturing jobs.”
Boeing’s message seemed to resonate already in disputes between U.S. airlines and foreign competitors.
Airline unions have urged Trump to overturn the Obama administration’s approval of flights arriving from Norwegian Air International, which the unions contend is trying to skirt labor laws by being headquartered in Ireland. In another fight, the three largest U.S. airlines, American, Delta and United, also are urging Trump to prevent more flights from state-owned rivals in the Middle East — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar — which the U.S. airlines contend get unfair government subsidies.
But all of those foreign airlines buy billions of dollars of Boeing planes. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Feb. 7 that Norwegian is hiring hundreds of U.S. crew members and buying Boeing planes are “a huge economic interest” for the country.