WASHINGTON — The administration of President Donald Trump is using the reopening of a steel plant in Granite City, Illinois, as immediate proof that its newly imposed tariffs on imported steel from some countries already is paying benefits.
In a background briefing leading up to Trump’s announcement that tariffs would be placed on imported steel and aluminum — but not, for now, from Canada and Mexico — a senior Trump administration official singled out United States Steel Corp.’s decision to put roughly 500 workers back on the job by restarting one of two idled blast furnaces and associated steel-making facilities at its Granite City works.
The president himself later mentioned U.S. Steel’s announcement in a ceremony depicting the tariffs at the White House’s Roosevelt Room. He called the reopening of the Granite City plant a “big one” and predicted it would be repeated in closed plants elsewhere.
That announcement was made Wednesday and put “some of the biggest smiles” on steelworkers’ faces, said Dan Simmons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1899 in Granite City.
“Very important facility that has shut down for two years,” said the senior Trump adviser, whom the White House communications staff would not allow to be identified by name in order to give Trump more of the spotlight in his late afternoon announcement.
“They will have 500 steelworkers back on the job and they will be making an additional 1.5 million tons of raw steel a year,” the official said. “And that is going to really contribute to our national and economic security.”
Trump, flanked by steelworkers from several states, said he was fulfilling a campaign promise, but that he had acted on a belief he had held for 25 years that “we have been treated so badly over the years by other countries” on trade.
But the steep tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — have created worry that they could launch a trade war that could increase inflation at home and harm U.S. exports, starting with farm commodities.
Trading partners ranging from the European Union to Turkey have threatened retaliation on everything from U.S.-made jeans to cotton. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she was “very concerned we’re starting a trade war that’ll do nothing but punish Missouri’s manufacturing and agriculture sectors.”
Other politicians — including members of Trump’s Republican Party — worry that Trump, by trying to tie the tariffs to ongoing renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, could fray vital trade and strategic partnerships with neighbors Canada and Mexico.
Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, was one of 107 House Republicans signing a letter opposing the tariffs. It warned that “tariffs are taxes that make U.S. businesses less competitive and U.S. consumers poorer.”
The senior Trump official ridiculed such concerns as “hair-on-fire rhetoric,” and declared: “There will be no significant price effects or inflationary effects.” He said the tariff statements signed by Trump would have the “flexibility” to negotiate better treatment of U.S. exports with national security allies.
The senior administration official said Trump advisers have calculated that the tariffs could add 1.5 to 2 cents to the price of a beverage can.
Trump told reporters before his announcement that “aluminum and steel are the backbone of our nation” and that “we’re going to protect the American worker.”
The tariff decision is already playing big in Illinois’ 12th congressional district race, where the Granite City works are located. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, has broken with many of his Republican colleagues and supported Trump’s move.
But the steelworkers’ union has endorsed Democrat Brendan Kelly, the St. Clair County attorney, who is running for his party’s nomination to oppose Bost in the November election. It is one of several dozen congressional races around the country targeted by Democrats in their attempt to take control of the House of Representatives in 2019.