President Donald Trump took the stage at an arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on Thursday evening as the main character in a campaign rally for Lou Barletta, the Republican candidate trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in November.
Trump served as master of ceremonies for an event in which several thousand people came from across northeastern Pennsylvania and waited hours to see a president that Luzerne County voters overwhelmingly voted to send to the White House.
Barletta, who trails by double digits to the incumbent Democrat Casey, is hoping the rally serves as an ignition point for a campaign that so far has lacked fuel in the way of name recognition and campaign funding. At the last reporting deadline June 30, Casey had $10 million compared to $1.5 million for Barletta.
After the event started promptly at 7 p.m., the president spoke for much of the next 90 minutes. He talked about his long political relationship with Barletta, an early supporter of Trump's presidential run and what one pollster has called "Trump before Trump was Trump."
But Trump also talked about Barletta's opponent, Casey.
His initial remarks about the two-term senator included a claim that he has "never met" Casey.
"I've been in Washington now for more than a year and a half, I hardly, I am honestly, I’m not sure I ever met Bob Casey, I never met him," Trump said.
But then he continued: "And I'm sure I did, I shook his hand. His father was a good man, a totally different person. I don't think, I don't know this man. He’s a senator, there’s 100 senators, I don’t know him."
To put Trump's confusion to rest, there is photographic proof that Trump has in fact met Casey:
That photo was taken Feb. 13 during a meeting at the White House. Trump and several House and Senate members from both parties, including Casey, discussed proposed tariffs on imported steel.
SENATOR CASEY: ... In your opening, you talked about the job impact, as well as the national security impact, and I’m glad you raised both. I’ll just focus on national security.
In Western Pennsylvania, as well as in Eastern Pennsylvania, you have two examples among several. But the two are AK Steel in Western Pennsylvania. They are the last remaining manufacturer of electrical steel, meaning the steel that goes into our electricity grid. They’ve been hammered by this, as you know.
In the eastern part of the state, as Senator Young from Indiana mentioned, ArcelorMittal —
THE PRESIDENT: They’ve been hammered by what?
SENATOR CASEY: Hammered by not having the remedy — the 232 remedy.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
SENATOR CASEY: To the extent that you can focus on that, I think the steel executives — the letter they sent you on the 1st of February, I think, outlines the problem. But this really is a national security issue.
THE PRESIDENT: Why didn’t the previous administration help the steel workers? Why didn’t the previous administration work on 232?
SENATOR CASEY: Well, look, I think there are a lot of us that had disagreements over the years, with the administration then, about being more aggressive on this issue.
THE PRESIDENT: Tremendous disservice.
SENATOR CASEY: I just hope that in this — I know it’s a 90-day period you’re in, but I hope you can promptly determine it.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
A spokesman for Casey's re-election campaign noted Friday that Trump may also recognize the senator from three other interactions in recent months, and as recently as this week.
"The president's attacks also haven't stopped him from signing into law three of Senator Casey's bills in the last four months, including the first major workforce training legislation in 12 years, which was signed just this week," Casey spokesman Max Steele said in an email.