Trump, Employees Celebrate at Reopened Steel Plant

'Workers are back on the job,' president says, while CEO pledges to 'make U.S. Steel great again'

Image Credit: Screenshot, YouTube

President Donald Trump on Thursday promoted his leadership on trade as he spoke to steelworkers at a plant outside of St. Louis that recently reopened and provided jobs for more than 500 workers.

United States Steel Corp. cited tariffs Trump imposed on foreign steel and aluminum in announcing in March that it would restart a pair of idled blast furnaces at its factory in Granite City, Illinois.

“Our steelworkers are going back to work in great numbers. Have you noticed?” Trump said to cheers. “We’re here today to celebrate a great victory — a victory for all of you, for this community and for our entire country.”

Trump noted that the facility soon would be pumping out 2.7 million tons of steel a year.

“Workers are back on the job, and we are once again pouring new American steel into the spine of our country,” he said.

The company’s CEO, David Burnitt, paraphrased and repurposed Trump’s famous campaign slogan: “We need to make U.S. Steel great again.”

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Burnitt thanked the president and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“It does, indeed, feel like a renaissance here for American steel,” he said. “You know, the president’s been in office really only a short time, but a lot has happened for our company because of the president.”

Trump also brought up four employees one by one. Plant manager Neal Whitt, a third-generation worker at the facility, recalled the pain that accompanied the shutdown of the plant two years ago.

“They were dumping steel all over the country — dumping it, like it was garbage. And they were putting all these people out of work. Now you are making your own steel.”

“As plant manager, it was difficult laying off people and getting the calls after the layoff,” he said. “Hearing about their struggles. Hearing about their personal lives. Hearing about the community, how it was suffering. However, the plant was able to come back, thanks to the hard work of every one of you … and your support, Mr. President.”

Second-generation worker Bobby Ellis compared the bond he has with his co-workers to the one he forged with his comrades in the Marines.

“I grew up here. My mother, God rest her soul, Nellie Ellis, worked at the machine shop, cold mill, 37 years,” he said. “I joined the Marine Corps. I realized what kind of family that is. You guys, each and every one of you guys and gals, are my family. We love you.”

A bricklayer talked about the worry of not knowing where he would get money for the next house payment, let alone to pay tuition for three children who were in college. Another employee recounted how the job had afforded her family a comfortable life before she got her layoff notice.

The president addressed the steel facility a day after averting — for now — a full-fledged trade war with Europe. He and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the United States and the European Union would work toward a goal of reducing tariffs and other trade barriers.

In exchange for Trump holding off on threatened auto tariffs, the European Union agreed to buy more soybeans and liquified natural gas from the United States.

Chris Garcia, who briefly served as the president’s deputy director of the Department of Commerce, told LifeZette that the overreaction to Trump’s use of tariffs was predictable.

The time to address America’s decades-long trade imbalance is now, when the economy is strong, Trump said. He said politicians let the problem fester year after year.

“This is exactly the pearl-clutching we’ve seen in D.C. from his critics, not just Democrats, but Republicans in the Establishment,” he said.

Juncker’s pledges, Garcia said, are “significant concessions.” He added that Trump’s critics misunderstand how he operates.

“His whole intention during these tough trade talks was to use them as a negotiating tactic. He was trying to signal that all along,” he said.

But Alan Tonelson, an economic policy analyst who advocates a more confrontational trade policy, told LifeZette said he does not believe Trump gained anything significant.

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“I worry that there’s much less to this joint EU-U.S. strategy … than meets the eye,” said Tonelson, who writes about the economy at RealityChek.

Tonelson said negotiations with Europe likely will drag on for years. And he added it remains to be seen whether they will resolve the most critical source of the trade imbalance: differences in tax structures. Unlike the United States, most European countries impose a value-added tax (VAT), which collects revenue at each stage of production.

When U.S.-made products arrive in Europe, they are subject to that levy, which varies from country to country but averages about 20 percent. European governments, meanwhile, refund the VAT paid by manufacturers when they ship products abroad.

That gives European products an unfair advantage over American companies, Tonelson said. Fixing that issue should be job one, he said.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult at best,” he said.

Related: EU’s Juncker Says ‘We Are Close Partners’ Working ‘Together,’ Not ‘Enemies’

Trump told workers at the Granite City plant that it is not an outlier. He said the economy had created 3.7 million jobs — including 370,000 manufacturing jobs — since he took office. He emphasized reopened steel and aluminum operations in Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.

“We’ve really hit it big over the last six months with what we’ve done,” he said. “They were dumping steel all over the country — dumping it, like it was garbage. And they were putting all these people out of work. Now you are making your own steel.”

The time to address America’s decades-long trade imbalance is now, when the economy is strong, Trump said. He said politicians let the problem fester year after year.

“I don’t know if they didn’t understand or if they didn’t care or if they didn’t, frankly, love our country,” he said. “But we have the worst trade deals ever made in history. Now they’re becoming good again.”

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