WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — President Donald Trump said on Thursday that West Virginia’s economy is improving because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
“Percentage wise, you’re among the greatest gainers in this country. I think it’s great,” Trump told a crowd of people at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center.
The president took part in a roundtable discussion focused on the impact of his tax reform plan. He was joined by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Gov. Jim Justice, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and several business owners.
Each person during the discussion thanked the president for his work on the legislation; several business leaders told Trump they have been able to hand out raises and bonuses to their employees based on the new tax system.
“I can tell you our people know that your tax cuts have made a difference,” said Terry Dodson, the president and CEO of Worldwide Equipment. “It’s not crumbs to them when they can pay their car payments and invest in their children’s future.”
Capito said West Virginia’s economy is bouncing back thanks to the tax bill she supported. The plan was enacted in December.
“It’s no secret in West Virginia we’ve had some tough times,” she said. “We really have, but we’re in a sense of renewal and great optimism because of the policies that you’ve brought forward and that Congress has been able to help you with.”.
In just the first few minutes of the discussion, the President took a jab at Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin for voting against the tax bill in December
“If you look at your senator, he voted against — Joe — you voted against. It was bad. I thought he would be helpful because he talks — grabs me, I grab him, he says hello, I say hello, —but he votes against everything and he voted against our tax cuts,” Trump said.
Manchin released a statement after the event, pressing why questions regarding the bill’s effects on health care and social programs were not asked. He also called the event “political posturing.”
In an effort to speak from the heart, Trump illustrated he was going off-script by throwing his prepared remarks up in the air.
“This is boring. We have to say it like it is,” he told the crowd after tossing his papers.
White House Deputy Communications Director Jessica Ditto said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline” before the visit, the president did not plan on discussing the upcoming congressional races in West Virginia, but toward the end of the event, Trump conducted an impromptu poll between Jenkins and Morrisey, both of whom are vying for the Republican nomination for Senate and opportunity to challenge Manchin.
“Should we do a little test?” Trump asked the crowd while Jenkins sat on one side of him and Morrisey sat on the other side.
“Who is voting for Patrick?” he asked, followed by cheers. “Who is voting for Evan?” he asked, followed by louder cheers.
Morrisey quickly leaned over to the President, “This is his (Jenkins’) congressional district. That’s why.”
Trump, chuckling, responded, “It was fairly close.”
Jenkins and Morrisey spoke more about the roundtable after its conclusion. Jenkins said the new tax plan could mean up to $1,966 in extra income per month for the average West Virginia family of four.
“That’s real money for real people,” he said. “The fact that the average monthly mortgage of a West Virginia homeowner is less than $600, the tax cut that working with President Trump we were able to deliver means that the tax cut pays for four months of your mortgage.”
Jenkins reflected on the many stories shared during the event. He described the energy in the room as “outstanding.”
“There were some pretty heartfelt stories about how folks were putting this money to use in their personal lives. I thought it was an outstanding event, an honor to have the president,” he said. “Clearly, he is endeared and loved in West Virginia. The highest approval rate of virtually any state in the country. You could feel it in the room today.”
Morrisey added he was glad other issues, such as the opioid epidemic, were not left out of the discussion. He cited it during the roundtable as West Virginia’s top issue.
“It was also important for the president to hear what’s on West Virginians’ minds. The importance of the tax cuts, the importance of the opiate epidemic and also how critical regulatory reform is,” he said. “This was a great forum and its terrific for the local town of White Sulphur and the whole state.”
He also responded to the banter between Trump, Jenkins and himself near the event’s conclusion.
“He had a little fun up there, that’s certainly true,” he said. “But if you can’t laugh in politics what can you do? I enjoyed it. I think it was positive and I think the people in our state had a chance to hear from our commander-in-chief.”
Thursday was Trump’s fourth visit to the Mountain State since he took office in January 2017.
Carrie Hodousek and Mike McCullough contributed to this story.