President Donald Trump will visit Fort Myers today to highlight his administration’s efforts to strengthen Medicare and Social Security, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his initiatives to lower the cost of drugs.
Trump will address an invitation-only crowd of about 400 at 1:30 p.m. at the newly renamed and remodeled Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheater, which adjoins the new Luminary Hotel, White House officials said Thursday evening.
The News-Press and Naples Daily News journalists are on the ground covering his visit.
Hundreds of people line the streets of downtown Fort Myers as they anxiously await a glimpse of the president and his motorcade.
Trump has emerged from Air Force One and his motorcade is leaving Southwest Florida International Airport. Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greeted the president at the airport.
Trump and Air Force One have arrived in Fort Myers.
Among the crowd at the convention center are Southwest Florida leaders including Nancy McGovern, a member of Lee Health’s board, Lee County commission chair Brian Hamman, Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass and state senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.
Nearly everyone is wearing masks. An announcer has reminded the crowd to stay safe and keep their masks on.
The song “Macho Man” by the Village People is playing in the backdrop.
A caravan of supporters for former Vice President Joe Biden headed to downtown Fort Myers.
Cameron McGinty, 32 and from Cape Coral, carried a massive US flag up and down Monroe Street. “I like Trump because he’s pro-God, pro-life and pro-gun,” he said. “He’s not afraid to get people upset with the truth.”
McGinty attended the Oct. 31, 2018 rally in Estero, standing about 12 rows behind the president’s left shoulder. McGinty said he was confident he would see Trump enter the convention center.
Outside the center, near the downtown Fort Myers post office, tension erupted between a Trump supporter and a Trump critic. Around 50 Trump supporters have gathered near the convention center to welcome the president.
Cathy Hudson of Estero waved a sign with the word “Liar” on it. A man wearing a Trump hat pushed Hudson to the ground. Hudson approached Fort Myers police to file a complaint. The man declined to comment.
Hudson was carrying a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution.
By 11:45 Friday morning, Fort Myers police had cleared the area in front of the convention center as bomb-sniffing dogs began circling the center. People without tickets were asked to stand across the street.
Hours before Trump’s downtown Fort Myers appearance, some local Republicans were overjoyed with the opportunity to see the president in person. Others were hurt they did not get invited.
“I’m super disappointed I won’t be seeing my president today,” said Margie Stevens. “I wasn’t even invited, which shocked me. I’m on the Republican executive committee. I volunteer with the clubs. I do voter registrations. I do a lot on my own. Supporting the president isn’t always just door knocking. Sometimes, you’re doing things on your own.
“I’m not really sure how they made their decisions as to who is going. I think it’s because I’m outside of the clique. I think it’s just about who’s connected. Obviously, I’m not connected. I don’t want to sound like a crybaby, and I don’t want to attack anybody anything like that. I’m just shocked. I’m on a 24/7 commitment to get my president re-elected.”
Doris Cortese, vice chair of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee, said she received two tickets to attend, one for her and one for her 95-year-old husband, who is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
“It’s very, very exciting to have the president in Southwest Florida,” Cortese said. “It’s going to give us a boost in votes, which is great. I’m very excited to be in a room that’s not filled with 30,000 people. I’m very excited to hear what he has to say, emphasizing senior citizens. Being a senior citizen, that means a lot to my husband and I. He’s very, very excited about seeing the president.”
Cortese said she received the tickets from the Trump campaign’s regional director for her local efforts to get Trump elected for the first time in 2016 and for her renewing those efforts for 2020.
“The number of hours I worked for President Trump, I think that’s why I got invited,” Cortese said.
Photographer Andrew West and Frank Gluck were tested Friday morning for COVID-19 before being allowed into the convention center.
To get into the center, the public is getting temperature checks at the door. Outside, in the line, several people stood closely and did not wear masks. However, masks were available at the door. A sign at the entrance told people they were assuming their own risk to attend.
Gluck and West, along with other members of the local media, were allowed into the Caloosa Sound center around 11 a.m. Friday. The seats were distanced in the main hall where Trump is set to speak.
Trump is expected to land at Southwest Florida International Airport around noon. About a dozen security agents and a bomb-sniffing dog were in the parking lot of PrivateSky terminal Friday morning along with members of the media.
Biden released a statement before President Trump’s visit to Florida:
“President Trump will hold another pair of events today, this time in Ocala and Fort Myers, where he is sure to continue to deflect and dodge his record. There’s no hiding that Floridians are worse off after four years with President Trump at the helm. Under President Trump’s watch, more than 15,000 Floridians have died from the coronavirus, Florida’s tourism-based economy shrunk by 60% in the second quarter, and unemployment more than tripled in the state. Mr. President, what is your plan for Florida families?”