The president of an aerospace company boasted in a social media post that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner declined President Trump’s invitation to attend a Granite City event to visit his Rockford business instead — a claim the governor’s office is denying.
Rauner — locked in an intense re-election campaign and working hard to distance himself from Trump — had a full slate of events on Thursday afternoon, criss-crossing the state as the president visited a steel plant in downstate Illinois.
And the governor’s office said Thursday that the White House knew Rauner “couldn’t be there anyway.”
“I am not aware of any special formal invitation [to attend the Granite City event],” Rauner spokeswoman Patty Schuh said. “But the governor of the state is always invited. We also communicated with the White House and they knew we couldn’t be there anyway.”
Rauner had three events scheduled on Thursday: two campaign events and one in his official role as governor. The Sun-Times was notified of a campaign event in Itasca at 10 a.m., but the governor was also set to appear at Midwest Aero Support in Rockford at 12:30 p.m. Rauner’s campaign said information on that event was sent only to Rockford-area media.
Rauner was also set to appear in Peoria at 3:30 p.m. to sign a tax credit bill. Trump’s Granite City rally was scheduled for 2:05 p.m.
Although all events had no media availabilities, the governor took some questions in Peoria. Asked why he was there instead of Granite City, Rauner said he was there because of a “very significant piece of legislation,” — a bill to expand tax credits for historic preservation projects throughout the state.
With a laugh, the governor talked of his busy day.
“My day is very full,” Rauner said. “I was in Chicago and Itasca and Rockford, and I’m heading back to Springfield tonight.”
Brent Johnson, the president and owner of Midwest Aero Support wrote in a Facebook post that he was notified on Wednesday that Rauner would visit his company.
“I feel honored he selected MAS [Midwest Aero Support] for this occasion. What is even more humbling is that President Trump will be in Illinois the same time tomorrow in a different city,” Johnson wrote. “The governor declined the president’s invitation to join him in Granite City to visit MAS instead. How we were selected is a mystery, but I feel it is an opportunity / experience of a lifetime.”
Rauner’s campaign spokesman Will Allison said both campaign events “had been in the works for weeks.” Allison said the events were planned on Jan. 26. He said there was talk of visiting a different company in Rockford, however.
“If someone is trying to imply that we had nothing on our schedule and then Trump shows up, and we added events, that’s not true,” Allison said. “Both have been in the works for awhile.”
Schuh said the Johnson post appears to be just a nice post from a businessman boasting about the governor’s visit because he was excited.
Rauner on Monday said he didn’t plan to be there when Trump makes his first visit to Illinois as president.
Asked about his plans, Rauner wasn’t even sure when Trump would visit the state.
“I heard the president is coming to Granite City, I think either Thursday or Friday,” Rauner said Monday in Wheaton.
Thursday, a reporter pointed out.
“I, uh, I do not plan to go. I was just in Granite City just in the past week,” he said.
Asked why that mattered, Rauner told reporters he talks to nearly everyone else at the White House.
“I go to the White House. I talk with the staff. I talk to the vice president all the time.”
Granite City is the site of a U.S. Steel Corp. mill that is reopening, a move credited to new tariffs on imported steel. But that trade war also has had negative effects, with Illinois soybean farmers feeling the pinch due to tariffs China imposed on that product.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker’s campaign — and other Democratic-allied groups — have worked for months to try to tie Rauner to Trump. Pritzker’s campaign on Thursday called Rauner a “staunch Trump supporter — whether he’s a silent partner or cheerleader.”
On July 13, Rauner appeared alongside Vice President Mike Pence at a Rosemont campaign event. Rauner backed up his praise for Pence last week, but wouldn’t answer whether his approval of Pence implied a pro-Trump stance. When asked directly whether he supported Trump, Rauner said he’s “supportive of many things,” such as tax cuts and rollback of regulations, but he opposed the way the administration handled the Charlottesville violence or the separation of children at the border.
Contributing: Mitch Dudek