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Trump, House GOP Could Clash Over ‘Buy America’

Donald Trump’s vision of “Buy American” may not be as pleasant to the House Republicans, who seem to be focused on the negative ramifications of doing so.

The Hill reports:

Donald Trump and House Republicans may clash over one of the president-elect’s chief campaign promises: to buy and hire American.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to follow those “two simple rules” while in office as a way to support American manufacturers and create jobs for the middle class.

“My administration will follow two simple rules. Buy American and hire Americans, right? We’re going to do it,” Trump said at a “Thank You Tour” rally in December.

“Because from now on, it’s going to be America first.”

But around the exact same time, a Republican-led effort to strip a so-called “Buy America” rule from a water infrastructure bill was underway in the House.

That fight could foreshadow showdowns between the incoming administration and Republicans in Congress.

“Their position against Buy America is at stark odds with the president-elect, who has repeatedly pledged two rules for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure: Buy American, and hire American,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said during a Senate confirmation hearing this week.

Trump’s team has sent clear signals that they intend to follow his Buy America mandate.

Elaine Chao, Trump’s nominee to lead the Transportation Department, agreed to uphold that standard in an infrastructure bill, even though she has expressed opposition to such polices in the past.

“The president has made very clear his position on this,” Chao said during her Senate confirmation hearing this week. “Of course all Cabinet members will follow his policy.”

It’s less certain if House Republicans will play along. An aide for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) did not return a request for comment for this story.

But the issue could soon be put to the test, with Trump promising to build a border wall and make massive upgrades to the nation’s infrastructure.

“The water infrastructure bill was the first major test of whether the Washington establishment would live up to President-elect Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ promise. They failed,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said in a statement on Friday. “When it comes time to take up infrastructure issues this year, I hope Speaker Ryan will work with both parties to put American workers first.”

As The Hill reported last year, Ryan was directly behind last year’s effort to drop the Buy America rule from a final waterways package, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

The language — included in the Senate-passed bill, but not the House version — would have required American steel and iron to be used in certain drinking water projects.

The philosophy behind opposing the provision is that blocking some companies from receiving federal dollars would create an unfair system of winners and losers. Or, as Transportation nominee Chao once described the policy, it would “dig a moat around America.”

“The ‘Buy America’ provision … in the [economic] stimulus package did more than squander America’s credibility on international trade,” Chao wrote in 2009. “It also created bureaucratic hoops that will slow down spending the stimulus funds on projects that are supposed to energize our economy.”

The fight against Buy America was also fortified by a lobbying effort from foreign steel companies that tapped Squire Patton Boggs, which employees former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to pressure lawmakers to ditch the language.

NLMK Inc., a major Russian steel company with some facilities in the U.S., and California Steel Industries, which is jointly owned by a Japanese steel company and a Brazilian mining company, both hired the firm to lobby on the waterways bill in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Trump never publicly weighed in on the Buy America spat in Congress last year, despite desperate pleas — and an aggressive Twitter campaign — from Democrats.

When Trump officially enters the White House, however, supporters like Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are expecting more Republicans to come around to the policy.

“Senator Portman is confident we’ll have a better chance at including such a provision in legislation this Congress with support of the Trump administration,” said Emily Benavides, press secretary for Portman.

In addition to Trump’s promised infrastructure and border wall proposals, the issue could surface in negotiations over an aviation bill, spending measures and the next waterways bill.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) told The Hill on Friday that he is currently working on new standalone legislation that would attach the Buy America rule to all places that it’s not currently applied to.

“Hopefully, Trump follows through and makes it a priority,” Lipinski said. “I would hope to see him really push that, and maybe bring enough Republicans along that we can do more to enforce Buy America than before.”

Photo credit: CNN/Screenshot.

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