Trump Returns Focus to ‘America First’ at Heartland Factory

President diverts attention from policy shifts, foreign threats with 'Buy American, Hire American' action

by Jim Stinson | Updated 19 Apr 2017 at 10:46 AM

President Donald Trump unveiled a new executive order on Tuesday, promising to protect the American worker as he stood in a Wisconsin tool company that has survived years of tough competition from China.

Trump made several bold promises to the Kenosha, Wisconsin, audience — on protecting workers and growing jobs.

“We’ve lost 70,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization . . . The World Trade Organization, another one of our disasters.”

But Trump’s tough talk on jobs and trade comes only days after the president reversed a key campaign promise to label China a currency manipulator — a practice that helps keep Chinese exports artificially cheap. The cheap exports from China, in turn, cause U.S. job losses because American products become more expensive by comparison.

Trump has been stung by criticism over the reversal and made sure he told the audience at the headquarters of Snap-on Inc. of Kenosha that tamping down on Chinese economic cheating was still on his mind.

“Together we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that more products are stamped with those wonderful words, ‘Made in the U.S.A.,'” said Trump. “We’ve lost 70,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization … The World Trade Organization, another one of our disasters.”

Trump said the 2016 election was a decision by the voters to keep jobs in the U.S. and stop the theft of the American dream. It was why, he said, he was signing his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order.

Trump said the order will aggressively promote and use U.S.-made goods in federal projects. It will also ensure U.S. labor is hired to do the work that the U.S. government oversees or controls.

Trump said the order will push better enforcement of existing "Buy American-Hire American" laws. But those laws have been undercut by the approval of many waivers issued by the government, he said.

And some foreign contractors have been using "dumped" steel from other nations, Trump said. Dumped steel is sold by a foreign company below market value in the U.S., in part to undermine U.S. competitors. Trump said his order would prevent the use of such steel in federal projects.

Trump vowed his officials would enforce his order, and that foreign trade agreements would not get in his way.

"We are going to investigate every single trade deal that undermines these provisions," said Trump.

Trump also talked up reform of the troubled H-1B visa program, which the order also addresses. Critics say the program is being exploited by U.S. companies to lay off American workers and replace them with cheaper foreign workers.

Being in Wisconsin, Trump took a shot at Canada, too. The neighbor to the north was the subject of a front-page story in the Washington Post on Tuesday about a growing trade war that has been hurting Wisconsin dairy farmers.

Trump told the cheering audience that he was reading about the dairy war, in which Canadian farmers slashed prices on milk. Wisconsin farmers have said the timing is terrible. Some Wisconsin farmers said they may have to sell their cows in auctions.

Trump called Canadian farmers' tactics "very unfair," and that if the budding trade war continued to hurt U.S. farmers, he would cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"NAFTA has been very, very bad for our country ... for our companies and our workers," said Trump, who bemoaned the bureaucratic rules around renegotiating NAFTA, as he has promised to do. "Big things will be happening on trade with other companies in coming months."

Trump also pivoted to tax reform and repealing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. While it has been reported both legislative accomplishments will take months, or could be dead, Trump said he would push Congress to get them done soon. He also said he will focus on improving U.S. infrastructure but did not give a cost estimate for what he wants.

Trump ended on a plea to recognize the elbow grease for which America is known — when it is unleashed.

"We are a nation of builders," said Trump. "We are the country that dug out the Panama Canal, that put a man on the face of the moon, and that linked our cities with majestic railroads and curving highways."

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