CHARLOTTE, NC (Jim Morrill and Ely Portillo/Charlotte Observer) - President Donald Trump will visit Charlotte on Friday for a whirlwind trip that includes a private fundraiser for Republican candidates in North Carolina's two most competitive congressional races.
The president's visit is expected to stretch from early to late afternoon. It will affect traffic near Charlotte Douglas International Airport and in southeast Charlotte around Carmel Country Club, all at the start of a busy Labor Day travel weekend.
Flights could be affected as well, due to restrictions on air traffic when Air Force One is landing and taking off.
"We encourage passengers to contact their airline for updated flight information before coming to the airport, especially if you are flying tomorrow afternoon and evening," airport officials said in a statement. "Please arrive early."
Trump is scheduled to appear at Central Piedmont Community College's Harris Conference Center at around 2 p.m. to tout a new retirement security measure and then head to Carmel Country Club to raise money for GOP candidates Mark Harris and Rep. Ted Budd. Trump will be joined by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration.
Harris is running in the 9th District and Budd in the 13th, although all the state's congressional districts have been declared unconstitutional by a federal, three-judge panel in a ruling that has thrown the election into turmoil.
At CPCC, Trump is expected to sign an executive order directing the departments of labor and the treasury to examine ways to make it ease regulations and make it simpler for small businesses to join together and form pooled 401 (k) plans.
So-called "multiple employer plans" could make it cheaper for small employers to offer retirement savings options for their employees, administration officials said. Any changes won't take effect immediately, but would follow new rules for such plans written by the Labor and the Treasury departments.
On Thursday, the administration faced questions about why Trump is coming to North Carolina to sign the executive order, and whether the trip is intended to defray the costs of his campaign fundraising stop for Budd and Harris.
"The president is going out to the American people," said James Sherk, a White House labor adviser. "This is a significant action...It seems more fitting and appropriate to do that in real America than here in the Beltway, surrounded by the swamp."
Trump's visit will coincide with ceremonies honoring the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, whose body will lie in state in the Capitol. The president is not expected to attend and was not invited to McCain's funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday.
Instead he'll headline a fundraiser where the top ticket goes for $25,000 and a couples' photo with the president goes for $10,000. Proceeds will go to a joint committee to support Harris and Budd.
Their Democrat opponents are using Trump's visit to raise money themselves.
"With Harris about to get a major financial boost, hitting our August fundraising deadline just became more important," Democrat Dan McCready's campaign emailed supporters for the 9th District race.
Kathy Manning, Budd's Democratic opponent in the 13th District, also used the president's visit to solicit money. "Trump and the special interests wouldn't waste their time and money if they didn't feel threatened," she wrote supporters.
Manning and McCready have both out-raised their Republican opponents. Some analysts have said the two races represent Democrats' best hopes of picking up Republican seats in North Carolina, and the McCready-Harris race is shaping up to be one of the closest in the nation.
Democrats need to win 23 seats to take control of the U.S. House.
Trump has figured into most congressional primaries and special elections this year. His visit to Charlotte could make him an even bigger factor in the two N.C. districts.
"It's something that Republicans are going to use to turn out their base and Democrats are going to use it to turn out theirs, and hang Trump around the necks of all the Republican candidates like a bright, shiny sign," said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University.
Harris has embraced Trump's visit.
"I was excited to campaign for and stand with candidate Donald Trump back in 2016. Now, I'm thrilled and honored to have President Donald Trump come to Charlotte to campaign for us this Friday," Harris said this week.
On Thursday a small group of clergy with a group called Faith in Public Life Action held a news conference to criticize Harris, a former Baptist pastor whose sermons and moral views have become fodder for critics.
National news outlets have published excerpts from sermons in 2013 and 2014 in which Harris called on women to "submit" to their husbands. In 2012 he helped lead the fight for a state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage until it was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I stand before you to stand up and speak out against the words and teachings of Rev. Mark Harris – especially when it comes to the worth and value of women and every member of the LGBTQ community," said the Rev. Bruce Baker-Rooks, pastor of SouthPark Christian Church.
Harris strategist Andy Yates called the speakers "just another group of far-left Democrat extremists from D.C."
"(They) want Nancy Pelosi to be the next Speaker of the House and know Dan McCready will help make that happen," he said. "They are just using local clergy as cover. I am confident the voters will reject their smear campaign and their extreme liberal values."