President Donald Trump announced Sunday he plans to visit Granite City on Thursday afternoon, where a U.S. Steel Corp. mill began recalling workers in March.
The White House said Trump plans to discuss trade during his visit to the steel mill, where about 800 employees have been called back to work for the U.S. Steel Corp since the president announced he would be placing tariffs on foreign steel in March.
“U. S. Steel has a long history of welcoming elected officials, including presidents, to our facilities,” U.S. Steel spokeswoman Meghan Cox said in an email to the Belleville News-Democrat. “We look forward to continuing that tradition by welcoming President Trump to our Granite City Works facility this week.”
The tariffs were aimed mainly at China, which had been accused of dumping steel into the U.S. market at lower costs.
In a press release in March, U.S. Steel Corp said the change was due to an anticipated demand for steel in the United States due to Trump’s announcement in March that the federal government would impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports.
Trump mentioned U.S. Steel at the White House’s Roosevelt Room during a ceremony surrounding the tariffs, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper reported that Trump said the reopening of the Granite City plant is a “big one” and thought it was the start of many closed plants reopening across the country.
Trump going to Granite City helps promote his agenda and allows him to show the positive effects of the tariffs especially in the industrial Midwest, according to John Shaw, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
“I think the president is looking for places to go and people to hang out with who support his broad agenda, and is looking for any sort of sign that policies he has advanced is helping boost growth and creating jobs,” Shaw said.
U.S. Steel idled Granite City Steel in late 2015, leading to the layoff of 2,000 workers. About 200 of those jobs came back last year, when U.S. Steel had planned outages to carry out upgrades at other plants around the country.
“Given the struggles the manufacturing sector has gone through, a message of being tough with your trading partners, tends to resonate at kind of a gut level and is seen as having an appeal,” Shaw said. “A lot of serious thinkers believe that kind of trade policy over time is not going to work and is going to cause far more harm than is going to provide benefits. In the short term there is some political appeal to it, and when there’s some evidence of some positive development you can claim to be partially responsible for, you obviously gravitate towards that.”
Dan Simmons, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1889, said in a previous interview Trump’s tariffs were “just icing on the cake” for the mill’s reopening.
In March, Simmons said they have been advocating for the reopening of the plant for years. While Simmons said Trump’s announcement poised them in a position to reopen, market trends indicated the mill could have reopened long before Trump’s announcement.
Whether GOP congressmen from the metro-east, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, will join Trump on Thursday has yet to be determined.
Granite City is in Bost’s district, which is expected to be a toss up in November. Bost is being challenged by Democratic St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly. Green Party candidate Randy Auxier also is on the ballot.
Shaw said he expects to hear at least a shout out to Bost during the remarks.
“I think it would be very unlikely he would do or say anything other than words of praise for the congressman,” Shaw said. “I would expect a brief acknowledgment to the congressman.”
Local progressive groups on Monday already planned protests against Trump. According to a Facebook event page, the group plans to have demonstrations at Civic Park in Granite City.
The visit could also have an impact in the governor’s race between Democrat J.B. Pritzker and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Rauner’s office said the governor does not plan to attend the president’s visit. Rauner has events in Rockford, Peoria and Chicago on Thursday.