President tells crowd during Iowa tour that economic adviser and commerce secretary had to give up a lot to work for him.
Donald Trump has said he doesn’t want “a poor person” to hold economic roles in his administration as he used an Iowa rally to defend his decision to appoint the wealthy to his cabinet.
The US president told a crowd on Wednesday night: “Somebody said why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy? No it’s true. And Wilbur’s [commerce secretary Wilbur Ross] a very rich person in charge of commerce. I said: ‘Because that’s the kind of thinking we want.’”
The president explained that Ross and his economic adviser Gary Cohn “had to give up a lot to take these jobs” and that Cohn in particular, a former president of Goldman Sachs, “went from massive pay days to peanuts”.
Trump added: “And I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?”
He made the comments as he toured the state with agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue and Ross partly to celebrate a Republican congressional victory in Georgia being seen as an early referendum on his presidency.
Trump touched down Wednesday evening in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and headed to a local community college and then to a campaign rally where he reveled in Karen Handel’s victory.
“We’re 5-0 in special elections,” said Trump in front of a boisterous crowd that packed a downtown arena. “The truth is, people love us … they haven’t figured it out yet.”
He also applauded Republican Ralph Norman, who notched a slimmer-than-expected win in a special election to fill the South Carolina congressional seat vacated by Mick Mulvaney, and mocked Handel’s challenger, Jon Ossoff, saying the Democrats “spent $30m on this kid who forgot to live in the district”.
Trump, no stranger to victory laps, turned his visit to a battleground state he captured in November into a celebration of his resilience despite the cloud of investigations that has enveloped his administration and sent his poll numbers tumbling.
With the appearance in Cedar Rapids, he will have held five rallies in the first five months in office.
The event underscores Trump’s comfort in a campaign setting. He laughed off the occasional heckler, repeated riffs from last year and appeared far more at ease when going after Democrats in front of adoring crowds than trying to push through his own legislative agenda from the confines of the White House.
Trump’s aides are making a renewed push to get the president out of Washington. The capital is consumed with the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election and Trump’s firing of his FBI director, James Comey.
Iowa, with its large share of independent voters, could be a proving ground for whether Trump can count on the support of voters beyond his base. Unaffiliated voters, or “no party” voters as they are known in Iowa, make up 36% of the electorate, compared with 33% who registered as Republican and 31% registered as Democrat.
Self-identified independents in Iowa voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 13 percentage points last year, according to exit polls conducted for the Associated Press and television networks. That margin helped Trump take the state by nearly nine points after Barack Obama won it the previous two elections.
Trump held a Des Moines rally in December as part of his transition-era “thank you” tour of states he had won, but has not been back to Iowa since.
At the rally, he touted his administration’s efforts to roll back regulations, mused about putting solar panels on a Mexican border wall, derided wind power for killing birds in a state that uses a lot of it and revealed that he urged the Senate to create a health care plan “with heart. Add some money to it!”
He avoided any discussion of the scandals surrounding his presidency, other than one brief reference to the “witch hunt,” his term for the inquiries into his campaign’s ties to Russia.