Trump: 'Strong' edge to deploying F-35 aircraft at Selfridge

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Warren — President Donald Trump said Thursday his administration is giving "strong consideration" to deploying F-35 aircraft to Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township.

Trump made the comment during a speech at Dana Inc.'s Warren plant that focused on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade deal he signed Wednesday. Democrats and Republicans in Michigan congressional delegation have been lobbying for years to get the F-35 planes sited at Selfridge to replace the aging Warthogs at the base. 

Trump mentioned the F-35 about eight minutes into the address. Selfridge could be seeing "a lot of very fast planes," he said. 

 "Actually, they will be stealth, so maybe you won’t see them," Trump joked.

President Donald Trump gives remarks at Dana Incorporated in Warren.

The president's support came after he was lobbied on Air Force One by Republican Michigan U.S. Reps. John Moolenaar of Midland, Paul Mitchell of Dryden, Tim Walberg of Tipton, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, Moolenaar said in a statement.

In an interview on Thursday night, Mitchell said Trump had committed to looking at the possibility of bringing the F-35 to Selfridge.

"When the president speaks, things get done," Mitchell said, adding that if Selfridge was selected, the decision would create jobs and bring additional security for the future of the base. But Mitchell said he didn't know the timetable for a decision.

Trump didn't mention U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, on Thursday, but Peters, who is up for reelection in 2020, has also been lobbying on behalf of Selfridge.

Peters said in a statement that he's been discussing Selfridge with Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett for the last few months. The two met recently in Peters' office.

"We spent considerable time talking about Selfridge, and I stressed that the base is ideal to host the F-35 mission," Peters said. "I’ll be pressing the Air Force and President Trump to follow through on bringing the F-35 to Selfridge."

In 2017, the U.S. Air Force announced Selfridge was not selected at that point to host one of the next two units of F-35A fighter aircraft.

The Air Force said Selfridge and the other two finalists — Gowen Field Air National Guard Base in Idaho and Jacksonville Air Guard Station in Florida — were “reasonable alternatives” but not preferred.

At the time, lawmakers said Selfridge still could be a candidate for future conversion to the F-35 mission.

In November, 14 members of Michigan's congressional delegation asked the Air Force in a letter to select Selfridge as one of the locations to host the Air National Guard’s next F-35 operational base.

Candice Miller, public works commissioner for Macomb County and a former member of Congress, touted Trump's comment on Thursday. The assignment of new F-35 aircraft at Selfridge would "ensure the long-term viability of the base," said Miller, a Republican who used to represent Selfridge in the 10th Congressional District.

"It makes the most sense to base these aircraft at Selfridge Air National Guard Base," Miller said. "The Airmen of the 127th Wing have proven they have the critically important skills — tested and proven in battle — to support this new aircraft.

"The Michigan Air National Guard has the necessary facilities, at Selfridge, in Alpena and at their air-to-ground range at Camp Grayling to allow for the addition of the F-35 to Michigan to happen quickly and at a low cost to the Air Force. In Michigan, We stand ready to accept this new assignment."

Trump twice previously has shifted administration policy to favor the wishes of Michigan Republicans.

During a March 2019 rally in Grand Rapids, the president backed off plans to slash funding for a popular Great Lakes cleanup program supported by key Michigan House Republicans. Trump told the crowd he would support fully funding the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and dump proposals his Budget Office had made for three straight years to make a 90% cut in the program.

The president’s conversion came after a discussion with U.S. Reps. Huizenga, Moolenaar and Bergman on his way from the airport to Van Andel Arena.

At an April 2018 rally in Macomb Township, Trump spontaneously decided to back initial federal funding for the $922 million Soo Locks modernization project. About $75 million in start-up for the new large lock was included in a stopgap spending bill the president signed in December. 

Trump had been lobbied by Moolenaar and three other House Republicans on the ride to the rally for the new lock, arguing that a breakdown of the existing Poe lock would disrupt the supply chain for steel production and manufacturing. The Poe lock is the only one big enough to handle the largest freighters that carry 89% of the cargo through the corridor, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report.

Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.