House GOP bucks Donald Trump, scraps legislation to "buy American" iron and steel

Republicans in Congress ignored Trump's calls to "buy American" steel and iron for water infrastructure projects

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published December 8, 2016 5:16PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Scott Morgan/AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Scott Morgan/AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Photo montage by Salon)

While campaigning on his brand of populism this year, President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly promised to "Make America Great Again" with protectionist trade policies that would bring back U.S. manufacturing jobs to America.

Now weeks into his transition, Trump is keeping up that fiery message — even as his Republican allies on the Hill prepare to vote against specific "Buy America" legislation meant to help American workers.

At one of his victory rallies last week in Cincinnati, Trump told the crowd, “We will have two simple rules when it comes to this massive rebuilding effort: Buy American and hire American. Whether it is producing steel, building cars or curing disease, we want the next generation of innovation and production to happen right here in America and right here in Ohio, right?”

But Republicans in Congress, apparently ready to buck their party's leader, days later announced that they were removing the "buy America" amendment from a water infrastructure bill that would require the government to only fund projects that use American-made steel. The provision would have allowed for exceptions if American steel had quality or supply problems or drove up costs substantially.

Ignoring Trump's demand that the government find ways to support U.S. manufacturers, particularly the steel industry, House Republicans stripped a "buy America" provision from their version of the Water Resources Development Act that had already passed the Senate. The bill is for infrastructure spending on the country’s waterways.

Language in the Senate-passed version of the Water Resources Development Act required the use of American iron and steel products in projects using billions of dollars in federal funding from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund — a provision that would have been a major boon for steelmakers who have hemorrhaged production to China and Turkey.

Republicans in the House, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, let the bill's final language to include a "buy America" provision only for 2017. Such a one-year requirement would have been assured anyway (as it was already approved last year) and Democrats had wanted a permanent "Buy America" provision.

Ohio's Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown was quick to slam House Republicans opposition to the ostensibly Trump-backed provision.

“By stripping meaningful Buy America rules from the water infrastructure bill, Washington leadership is choosing China and Russia over Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” said Brown. “This was the first major test of whether Washington establishment Republicans would live up to President-elect Trump’s promises to put American products and American workers first — they failed, and American iron and steel workers will pay the price.”

Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin made the divide between Trump and House Republicans on the issue clearer, as she vowed to reintroduce "Buy America" legislation.

“He really needs to stick to that promise and take a stand right now,” Baldwin said in a press release about Trump, who hasn't spoken out on this specific bill.

“By removing my Buy America standard, Speaker Ryan and House Republicans embraced the status-quo in Washington," she declared in another press release. "Our American manufacturers and workers deserve a solid commitment from us and I’m not giving up this fight to build a made in America infrastructure. The choice for the Republican establishment in Washington is clear: Do you stand with American workers or do you support spending taxpayer dollars on Chinese and Russian steel for American water infrastructure projects?”

Democrats are calling on Republicans to reinstate the provision before the House and Senate versions of the legislation are reconciled.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia Tesfaye