President Donald Trump returned to his nationalist “America first” message on Tuesday after spending most of the previous 12 days focused on Syria and North Korea.
Trump, until he began speaking at a Snap-On Tools factory in Wisconsin, had appeared in recent days to be drifting a bit from the populist message that helped him win manufacturing states like the one he visited Tuesday, as well as Michigan, Ohio and others. But after touring the plant, he was back at it, hailing “American workers” and threatening countries that “steal” their jobs.
He told a Kenosha audience that his administration will do “everything” it can to ensure more and more goods are “stamped with those wonderful words: Made in the USA.” Trump extolled the “old days,” when more products featured those words. He promised, just as he did as a candidate, that folks soon are “going to see it a lot more.”
Trump then used a favorite phrase, “buy American and hire American,” saying, “you haven’t heard that in a long time.”
Despite the claim, a bill introduced in May by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin would require American products be used for certain publicly funded projects.
Trump also vowed to “protect” U.S. workers and their jobs, echoing a favorite campaign line that was also the foundation of his Inauguration speech, by forcing Washington to “finally put America first.”
Following his prepared remarks, Trump signed an executive order that restricts U.S. companies’ use of skilled immigrant workers and enforces federal “Buy American” laws for goods and services used in taxpayer-funded projects.
“It’s a big one,” he said with a smile, before putting pen to paper.
Actual changes to federal programs and policies are months away. But senior administration officials on Monday promised “culture changes immediately across the agencies.”
The internal effort to craft the executive order was led, in part, by Steven Miller. He is one of Trump’s top domestic policy advisers and is closely aligned with Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist with deep nationalist views.
The executive order will launch reviews of so-called “Hire-American, Buy-American” practices in federal agencies, identify changes that can be made administratively and recommend legislative changes that might be necessary, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to disclose details before the order was signed.
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer slammed Trump for failing to support Baldwin’s bill and for making hollow pledges about protecting American workers and jobs.
The president’s “verbiage doesn’t meet … reality,” Schumer said during a conference call with reporters.
Schumer said Tuesday’s speech and order signing would merely be a “rerun” of other executive actions taken during Trump’s first 89 days in power: “The president makes a promise, signs an empty executive order that won’t help the life of a single American worker, smiles at the cameras, and goes right back to … helping out the special interests and leaving America’s workers out to dry.”
“President Trump has just repeatedly failed to deliver on the promises he’s made to American workers during the campaign,” Schumer said. “He hasn’t stood up to China, [which] has robbed millions of Americans of jobs over the last several decades, [and] has been a benefactor of loopholes in our Buy America laws.”
In an interview with “Fox & Friends” that aired around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, Trump lauded his Chinese counterpart for helping press North Korea over its atomic arms and missile programs. The president said he has no intention of starting a “trade war” with a country that could possibly help disarm Kim Jong Un.
The minority leader also chided Trump for ignoring Baldwin’s legislation, saying it is “one of a number of ‘Buy America’ proposals Democrats have put forward to make sure taxpayer dollars are used to fund American-made infrastructure.
“If the president is serious about Buy America, the most important thing he can do is announce his support for Tammy Baldwin’s bill today. That would be real,” he said.
But Public Citizen, a nonpartisan not-for-profit organization, called for the Trump administration to do even more.
“Procurement is one of the most effective tools President Trump has to help U.S. workers, and strengthening Buy American rules is a good first step, but ‘Buy American’ means buy from 59 countries and America unless the administration ends the trade agreement waivers now in effect,” the group said in a statement.
“If these important changes to procurement policy were fully implemented and the administration ended the waivers of ‘Buy American’ policy now in place because of past trade deals,” according to Public Citizen, “it could create more American manufacturing jobs and bring down our trade deficit.”
Specifically, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch advised Trump to exit a WTO procurement agreement, then end Buy American waivers with 59 countries.
Richard Trumka, of the powerful AFL-CIO labor union, said Tuesday that he supports Trump’s executive order, calling it “short on specifics” but saying it “addresses critically important issues.”
Trump kept on talking about his stunning November election win. He called it a “great day in November,” noting he took the “great state of Wisconsin.”
“That was a great day,” he told the crowd, “and thank you, Wisconsin.”
Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.