When President Donald Trump was sworn in, steelworkers around the country expressed hope. Here was a candidate vowing to strengthen infrastructure, bring back jobs, revive industry and protect factories from cheap imports.
But one year later, these policies have not materialized and steel plants are feeling the effects and laying off huge swaths of workers. ArcelorMittal, which owns a Pennsylvania mill, announced plans in September to lay off 150 of their 207 employees in 2018, according to the New York Times. ArcelorMittal blamed imports and the low demand for steel as reason for the upcoming layoffs:
Foreign steel makers have rushed to get their product into the United States before tariffs start. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, which tracks shipments, steel imports were 19.4 percent higher in the first 10 months of 2017 than in the same period last year.
That surge of imports has hurt American steel makers, which were already struggling against a glut of cheap Chinese steel.
So not only did Trump not follow through on his pledge to steelworkers, but his empty rhetoric made their situation all the more dire.
A spokesman for the Commerce Department told the Times the administration was "aware of the plight of American steel workers and will continue working to halt unfair trade practices that harm our economy and kill American jobs."
In the early aughts of Trump's presidency, he appeared to be making headway on reforming trade and bolstering the U.S. steel industry. He ordered investigations "into imports of steel and aluminum under the little-used Section 232 of a 1962 trade law, which permits sweeping restrictions to protect national security," the Times reported. Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, said in May that the steel investigation would likely be finished by the end of June.
And by June, Trump continued to laud his commitment to steelworkers. "Wait till you see what I’m going to do for steel and your steel companies," he said to a crowd in Cincinnati. Many thought tariffs were coming as Trump continued to vow the halting of cheap foreign imports. "We’ll be seeing that very soon. The steel folks are going to be very happy," he added. But there was never an announcement. (Though, the Commerce Department must present the results from the investigation by Jan. 15, and then Trump has 90 days to make a determination.)
"I think the White House is immobilized, because they have such a cacophony of voices," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told the Times. "This administration doesn’t seem to know what it thinks about trade."
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance Alliance for American Manufacturing, a group that represents steelworkers, told the Times that he had "a profound sense of frustration that the president has been using steelworkers as political props." He added, "The president’s own words and lack of action have actually put the industry in a worse position than if he had done nothing at all."