President Trump's Newport News visit: Protest on the street, enthusiasm on the ship

Reema Amin
Contact Reporterramin@dailypress.com

President Donald Trump's visit to Newport News Shipbuilding Thursday prompted enthusiasm aboard the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford and protest outside the shipyard.

After landing at Langley Air Force Base, Trump flew to the shipyard, where he discussed boosting defense spending. As three military aircraft and two helicopters flew over 34th Street and West Avenue, close to two dozen protestors turned to the sky and raised their signs.

"Trump you are a professional liar," read one of the signs held up by a bamboo stick. Other signs called for protection of Planned Parenthood and criticized the relationship between the White House and Russia. Suzanne Stern, with the Williamsburg Indivisible Group, held a sign that read "Save our democracy! Follow the Russia Trail ..."

"With every passing day, it's just a question of time when it's going to all be revealed," she said. "We know there's a connection. That's why he won't release his taxes."

Some drivers gave a thumbs up or honked at the group in support, huddled right in front of a 7-Eleven. A police officer waved while driving by.

Others were not friendly. One man told the group to move out of the country. Protesters responded with, "Move to Russia." Another man yelled from his car and cursed, telling the protesters to get a job. Pam Pouchot, in a pink "I Stand with Planned Parenthood" shirt, responded with, "Thank you" — the same response she had for police officers driving and walking by.

"You appreciate they're here to protect you if you need it," she said.

Three women stood across the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of the president as he flew over the intersection. They described themselves as "very pro-Trump."

"To those people across the way — they just need to get over it," said Beverly Long, a lifelong Newport News resident who followed Trump during the campaign. He stood out even when he was in the large pool of Republican candidates vying for the nomination, she said.

Long said she's happy that Trump is focusing on defense spending because, "look at our people around here. We need to build the military up."

Mary Holtz, a Navy veteran and one of the protesters, questioned the plan to increase military spending.

"How about our veterans? How about the VA system?" she said. "Could we put some of this war money to take care of our warriors who come home?"

Long, who is half-Filipino, said talk of Trump disrespecting minorities is a fable of the media, and that he is "for women's rights." She talked about how hard her mother worked to become a citizen in the 1960s, and said others should do the same instead of complaining.

Her friend, Teresa McPherson, touched on immigration: "We want immigrants, and we want refugees, but they need to be legal."

Navy veteran Holtz, who said she was a Republican until this past election, had her hands full with a sign and her child tucked away in a crib. She is president of the Virginia Peninsula chapter of the National Organization for Women.

"We just want to send a statement that we are resisting hate and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia, all these things," she said. "Every day it's something new. It's like a barrage of exclusionary and nasty, hurtful rhetoric and policy."

Excitement at the shipyard

About 2,500 shipbuilders and 1,500 sailors filled the Gerald S. Ford, many brimming with excitement for the president's visit.

Kevin Heufner, wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat, said it was awesome to have Trump address the shipyard and thought it was a sign of good things to come.

Heufner, a radiographer from Hampton who has worked at the shipyard for 12 years, said he felt the shipyard's employees were more secure in their jobs because of Trump's push for higher defense spending and expansion of the Navy. He's seen people laid off and hopes to see those jobs come back.

Heufner was drawn to Trump early in the campaign because of his brash, unorthodox approach. "He's not a politician," Heufner said.

Trump delivered a 15-minute speech, touching on increased defense spending and getting huge cheers when he said that more orders for aircraft carriers would be coming.

"I'm pumped up by it," said Bill Fallon, a submarine program manager, after the speech. "This is good for the company and good for the country." Fallon said it was important for the military to have the resources it needs to protect the seas and highlighted Trump's point that the Navy is at its smallest size since World War I.

The Navy now has about 275 ships, the lowest number since it had 245 ships in 1916. PolitiFact has evaluated the World War I claim a number of times, rating it from "Half True" to "Pants on Fire" false and pointing out that in 1916 the Navy had neither aircraft carriers nor nuclear weapons.

Gary Preston, a supervisor from Hampton who's worked at the shipyard for 37 years, didn't say if he supported Trump in the election, but he said he came to the speech with an open mind and walked away feeling positive about what he heard.

"Building up the military is a good thing," he said, pointing to Trump's plan to do away with sequestration as a high point in the speech. "This is definitely good for the shipyard."

Who was invited?

Not all politicians who represent the area were invited to see the president talk.

U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, was not invited, according to Gabrielle Brown, a spokeswoman.

Scott, whose district includes the shipyard, issued a statement about Trump's remarks, saying that his plan to cut taxes means cuts to programs that support education, infrastructure improvements, environment, workplace safety and public health.

"I welcome the President's call for increased shipbuilding, but I remain very concerned about how he intends to pay for it. So far, all I've heard is that he intends to cut taxes, raise defense spending, and propose draconian cuts to non-defense discretionary spending," Scott said in a prepared statement. "I hope that in the next days and weeks the President and his administration will provide more concrete details on his proposals."

U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Virginia Beach, whose district includes parts of Newport News and Hampton, was invited and tweeted from the shipyard, "Proud to be with @POTUS , the @USNavy sailors , and great ship builders on the new USS Gerald Ford today. #America."

Daily Press reporters Jonathan Black, Travis Fain and Josh Reyes contributed to this story. Amin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4890.

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