President Donald Trump is expected to focus his Nashville speech Wednesday on repealing Obamacare and on school choice, multiple sources confirmed to The Tennessean.
Trump timed his Wednesday campaign-style rally at Municipal Auditorium to coincide with the 250th birthday of Andrew Jackson, which is one reason why he's visiting Nashville. As part of his visit, Trump plans to visit The Hermitage and lay a wreath at Jackson's tomb, the White House confirmed Monday.
The health care component of the speech was to be expected because Trump and House Republicans are pushing a bill dubbed the American Health Care Act to replace Obamacare.
Nashville has been ground zero for debate about school choice. The expansion of privately funded, publicly run charter schools has defined the last three local school board races. And in the state legislature, bills to bring school vouchers are under debate. Trump's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an ardent champion of charter schools and vouchers, which give parents public dollars to send their children to private schools.
"The primary focus is going to be health care, specifically repealing and replacing Obamacare," said a source with knowledge of the event. "The secondary theme is going to be school choice."
According to multiple sources, Darren Morris, who served as the state director for Trump's Tennessee campaign, played an integral role in conversations that led Trump's team to choose Nashville for the rally.
Morris, who is currently working as campaign manager for the gubernatorial bid of Tennessee Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, declined to comment to the Tennessean.
Trump's campaign has paid Metro government $40,579 as a deposit to rent Municipal Auditorium, according to the contract.
Advance details of a planned Trump speech must come with a caveat. The president is famous for eschewing prepared speeches in favor of off-the-cuff remarks at campaign events. Trump's speech also comes one day before his new immigration executive order, which would block immigrants from six primarily Muslim countries from coming to the U.S.
"It makes logical sense to me that if you're talking about health care that you would focus in on Nashville," Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden said. "Obviously, that's a gigantic center of health care activity throughout the Southeastern region.
"Certainly, the president when he's speaking has a tendency to talk about other things, news of the day, so I expect that all these things will be on the table and he'll go from there."
Golden said the Republican-dominated politics of Tennessee — where Trump won 61 percent of the vote in November — also makes the state a logical destination for the visit. Tennessee's governor and two senators are Republican. And though the rally is set for the district of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, the districts of conservative U.S. Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn are close by. (Democrat-leaning Davidson County, on the other hand, voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.)
"So from those perspectives, you would say Nashville makes perfect sense," Golden said, adding that he was not part of the discussions that led Trump to choose Nashville.
Health care debate raging
Trump's rally will come two days after the Congressional Budget Office on Monday released a highly anticipated report on the Republican-backed health care alternative to Obamacare, projecting it would lead to 14 million fewer Americans with health insurance by 2018 and 24 million by 2026. The GOP-backed bill also would reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion by 2026, according to the CBO score.
In a statement Monday, Black, chairman of the House Budget Committee, called Obamacare a law "built on government control and mandates." The Republican alternative would eliminate a mandate that every American be insured.
"Dismantling the individual mandate gives Americans the freedom to make choices for themselves, even if that choice is to not have health care coverage," Black said. "We believe and are committed to the idea that the American people are best suited to make decisions about their own lives.
"The American Health Care Act expands choice and freedom while reducing costs and saving taxpayer dollars. We look forward to acting on it in the House Budget Committee this week.”
Cooper, in a statement, ripped the president after the release of the CBO study, saying that Trump "promised 'insurance for everybody' and that U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said everyone will get coverage under the Republican plan."
"More than 20 million people gained insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and we have the lowest uninsured rate in U.S. history,” Cooper said. “But today, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed what health experts already feared — 24 million Americans will lose their health insurance under the Republican health plan. That’s not insurance for everybody. Republicans are undoing progress that was made and ruining lives.”
While Nashville and Memphis have become hotbeds for charter schools, legislation to allow vouchers has annually stalled in the Tennessee General Assembly. Some believe that a Trump presidency could give momentum for the passage of a voucher bill this year in Tennessee.
Nashville has mounted a resistance to the idea. The Metro school board unanimously voted last month to oppose any effort to create a voucher program in the state, saying that doing so would divert money away from public education.
Advocates say vouchers are about giving options to kids assigned to the lowest academically performing schools in the state.
“He’s been a big supporter of school choice and has really pushed this as part of the Republican agenda to reach out to minority voters, and I think that’s really important," state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said of Trump. "I hope he mentions it, but I understand the emphasis of his remarks I think will be on health care.”
Opponents disagree. Will Pinkston, a Nashville school board member who has opposed vouchers and the rapid growth of charter schools, warned of “apocalyptic times” for public education supporters because of the policies championed by the president and DeVos.
“It’s very clear that just like the rest of the policies coming out of this administration, that having choice on steroids is not in the best interest of students, teachers and public schools,” Pinkston said. “The job of the local school board has become more important than ever because we are basically the last line of defense against the radical reform agenda.
“How we stop it, I’m not sure. I tend to think a lot of these things end up in court just like the Muslim ban ended up in court, and other things the administration is doing. But this is a fight for the future of the greatest democratic institution we’ve got, which is public education.”
Reporter Joel Ebert contributed to this story.
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.
What to expect Wednesday
Traffic: The president is expected to arrive on Wednesday during the afternoon commute. Expect road closures.
Mass transit: Trump’s visit to Municipal Auditorium means the Metro Transit Authority will close the nearby Music City Central bus terminal.
The Hermitage: The 45th president will lay a wreath on the tomb of President Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president.
The rally: Trump’s rally is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT He’s expected to address health care.