- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. — President Bush, courting union voters in a state he narrowly lost to Al Gore, yesterday called domestic steel production a national security priority and was praised by steelworkers for beginning a probe into complaints about illegal steel imports.
"If you're worried about the security of the country and you become over-reliant upon foreign sources of steel, it can easily affect the capacity of our military to be well-supplied," Mr. Bush told 1,000 people at a steelworkers' picnic.
"Steel is an important job issue; it's also an important national security issue," he said. "And that is why we took the actions we took in this administration."
In June, Mr. Bush ordered an investigation into steel imports from nations such as Japan, South Korea and Brazil, which American steelworkers complain are unfairly subsidized by the governments of those nations.
"Mr. President, we thank you for taking this long-needed action against the flood of unfairly traded steel that in the last three years has forced over 20 steel makers to file for bankruptcy, and caused the loss of 20,000 jobs, and put another 40,000 jobs at risk," said US Steel CEO Tom Usher. "From the look of things here today, you've got a lot of friends in Pennsylvania."
Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers of America, agreed
"We cannot let illegal, foreig.n, dumped, subsidized, underpriced steel steal our future from us," he said. "Mr. President, we thank you for taking this important first step."
The steel industry is hoping Mr. Bush takes the more dramatic step of backing legislation that would punish nations that dump government-subsidized steel into America at artificially low prices.
The White House has not yet decided whether to back such a law. But Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge pointed out that the president's decision to begin an investigation is more than former President Clinton ever did for American steelworkers.
"I must tell you, Mr. President, on a couple of occasions, some of us, both Republicans and Democrats, contacted your predecessor in '98 and '99, and said there's some things going on in the international marketplace that need redress," Mr. Ridge said. "But you've responded to the call in the first couple months of your administration, and we're grateful for that."
Mr. Bush, an avid proponent of free trade, was careful not to portray his investigation into steel imports as protectionist. "We've got a free-trade policy that's going to have a level playing field as its component," he said.
Still, the president appeared mindful that he must win the support of steelworkers if he is to have any hope of carrying Pennsylvania in the 2004 election. Yesterday's trip was just the latest in a series of frequent visits to this state that voted, 51 percent to 46 percent, for former Vice President Al Gore.
"It doesn't matter whether you're Republican, Democrat, don't care about political parties," Mr. Bush told the crowd in a parking lot of a massive steel plant. "I love representing this great country because it's a country full of good and decent honorable folks."
Mr. Bush spent an unusually long time shaking hands with steelworkers and their families, posing for snapshots and signing pictures as if it were a campaign rally. He drew cheers when he reminded people of his tax cut by exclaiming: "It's the people's money."
The president also made a concerted effort to promote values that he says are found in the heartland of America and not necessarily in Washington, D.C.
"See, Washington passes laws, but it doesn't pass values legislation," he said. "And there's another reason to get outside of Washington, because there's a lot of common sense outside of the nation's capital."
Mr. Ridge, responding to complaints from Democrats and the press about the president's monthlong working vacation in Crawford, Texas, said it is "a vacation from Washington, not a vacation from work."
After touring the steel plant, Mr. Bush traveled to South Wil-liamsport, Pa., and was inducted to the Little League Hall of Excellence.
Mr. Bush is the only U.S. president to have played Little League.
"You know, years ago, when I was playing on those dusty Little League fields in West Texas, I never dreamt I would be president of the United States," Mr. Bush said before throwing out the first pitch in the league's championship game. "And I can assure you I never dreamt I would be admitted into the Little League Hall of Excellence."
Before departing West Mifflin, Mr. Bush joked that first lady Laura Bush "remembers me as a Little League baseball player, so she is somewhat in shock over the fact that I'll be inducted into the Little League Hall of Fame."


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