President Donald Trump and truckers have a long history.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

For weeks, truck drivers across the US and in Washington, DC, have protested unusually low pay rates during the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of protesting truck drivers loudly honking their horns interrupted President Donald Trump during a press conference on Friday.

Trump, who was discussing efforts to produce a coronavirus vaccine, called the honking a “sign of love.”

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Protesting truck drivers interrupted a White House press conference on the coronavirus on Friday.

President Donald Trump took a moment away from discussing efforts to produce a vaccine to praise the drivers, calling their protest a “sign of love.”

Related: Drugmakers Developing COVID019 Vaccines in Record Time

“Do you hear that outside, that beautiful sound?” Trump said. “Those are truckers that are with us all the way.

“They’re protesting in favor of President Trump, as opposed to against him,” he added. “Hundreds of trucks out there. And that’s the sign of love, not the sign of your typical protest. So I want to thank our great truckers. They like me, and I like them. We’re working on something together.”

Trump made similar comments on a Thursday interview with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo as truck horns drowned out their conversation. Bartiromo clarified that the horns came from truck drivers who were protesting, and Trump pushed back.

“Well, they’re not protesters,” Trump said. “They’re supporters of me because we are getting things for the truckers, and all those great truckers that are all over the country. They’re honking and they’re really very thankful that I’m president frankly.”

Why truck drivers are protesting

The truck drivers were, in fact, protesting rock-bottom rates, not celebrating Trump. Since mid-April, drivers in Texas, California, Arizona, and Washington, DC, have taken to the streets in their big rigs to demand government support.

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April rates for spot-market loads — trucking jobs tendered in real time rather than through a prearranged contract — were 54% lower than in April 2019, according to data from the load-board company DAT. Rates in April fell to five-year lows for refrigerated and flatbed loads.

Meanwhile, the $2 trillion stimulus bill that Trump signed into law in late March did not provide any direct support for truck drivers. Several truck drivers who applied for a loan through the Small Business Administration told Business Insider that they were not able to get funding, putting their livelihoods at risk.

For Joe Plummer, the pay to take a truckload of goods from his home base in North Carolina to Los Angeles had plummeted to $2,700 from $4,700 two months ago.

“We don’t need memes and news conferences saying ‘We support truckers,'” Plummer previously told Business Insider. “We need fuel to stay low, rates to go up, and some type of financial assistance until we recover.”

There are nearly 2 million truck drivers in the US. About 350,000 to 400,000 of them own and operate their own trucks, while many work for small companies in need of financial assistance.

Cass Information Systems said April freight volumes hit levels not seen since 2009, obliterating take-home pay for drivers.

Trump has pledged to help truck drivers, but some say they are just a ‘political toy’

While Trump said truck drivers loved him, their relationship has been a bit rocky in recent years. Several blamed Trump in 2019 for destroying their livelihoods as his trade war lowered US manufacturing output.

Trump has rallied behind truck drivers in recent weeks. He told “Fox & Friends” earlier this month that truck drivers were being “price gouged” by the brokers who match them with retailers and manufacturers, adding that he was “going to take care of them.”

Some drivers, however, have expressed their frustration that Trump is using them as “a political toy.”

“You’re a political toy! Placated and being used,” trucking activist Charles Claburn wrote on Facebook, as reported by Transportation Nation Nework. “You leave that street (and) it’s over. We need more trucks. They see us, now they need to hear us! There needs to be a clear ultimatum sent by this industry they have 6 weeks to deliver the promises, if not in writing, then it’s time to do it right.”

Until changes are made, truck drivers like Plummer don’t know whether they’ll keep working at all.

“We are risking our health and lives to take rates that wouldn’t pay for our business,” he said.

Are you a truck driver with an opinion on President Donald Trump? Email rpremack@businessinsider.com.

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