- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2018

President Trump said Monday he’s pressuring the CEO of General Motors to open a new factory in Ohio quickly following the automaker’s announcement of plant closings in the Midwest, a business decision that could complicate the president’s re-election bid.

On the same day that GM announced layoffs of up to 14,000 workers at as many as five plants in North America, including Michigan and Ohio, Mr. Trump told reporters he had a stern phone call with CEO Mary Barra in which he reminded her of taxpayers’ $80 billion bailout of the auto industry in 2008.

“The United States saved General Motors, and for her to take that company out of Ohio is not good,” Mr. Trump said. “I am not happy with what she did. They better get back to Ohio and soon. I was very tough when I spoke to her.”

GM said it is cutting production of several car models, including the compact Chevrolet Cruze, as part of a massive restructuring that will eliminate about 5 percent of its North American workforce.

The decision to halt production at the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and its Hamtramck facility in Michigan are a blow to the states’ economies. And it could affect the re-election prospects for Mr. Trump, who won two years ago by capturing both states and has made big promises to those communities about his policies creating a resurgent American auto industry.

The president seemed to acknowledge that electoral dynamic Monday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

“I love Ohio,” Mr. Trump said. “They better damn well open a new plant there very quickly. I told [GM officials], ‘You’re playing around with the wrong person.’”

He said he told Ms. Barra that GM should stop making cars in China and open a new plant in Ohio to replace the facility targeted for closing.

Democrats quickly seized on the automaker’s announcement, laying the blame on Mr. Trump.

Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, called for hearings to review how GM used millions of dollars in tax cuts from the corporate tax relief enacted by Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans last year.

“The American people deserve to know if the tax cuts they paid for are being used to inflate corporate profits at the expense of their economic security and the survival of American workers,” Mr. Ryan wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee.

He also said Mr. Trump “has been asleep at the switch and owes this community an explanation.”

“We tried to get his attention on this issue two years ago,” Mr. Ryan said. “He promised us that his massive corporate tax cut would lead to dramatic reinvestments in our communities. That clearly is not happening.”

The president said GM cited poor sales of certain models, rather than a weakening economy.

“They say the Chevy Cruze is not selling well,” Mr. Trump told reporters, recounting his conversation with Ms. Barra. “I said, ‘Well, get a car that is selling well and put it back in.’ I think you’ll see something else happen there. I’m not happy about it.”

Although GM said Mr. Trump’s steel tariffs didn’t contribute to its decision, some Democrats were faulting the president’s trade war with China. Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted, “Trump is shafting American workers. His tax cuts aren’t trickling down. His trade wars are backfiring.”

Mr. Trump dismissed the complaint.

“It had nothing to do with tariffs. She [Ms. Barra] said the car was not selling,” the president said.

Mr. Trump would not have won the presidency without Ohio and Michigan. In 2016, he surprised Hillary Clinton by flipping regions such as Trumbull County, Ohio, near GM’s Lordstown plant that now is closing. He won the county by about 6 percentage points, four years after then-President Barack Obama had won it by 23 points.

The president made promises to autoworkers about bringing back their high-paying jobs from places such as Mexico and South Korea. At a rally in Youngstown in July 2017, the president said of manufacturing jobs that the state had lost over the years: “They’re all coming back. Don’t move, don’t sell your house.”

“We’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build new ones,” Mr. Trump told a cheering audience. “After years and years of sending our jobs and wealth to other countries, we are finally standing up for our workers and for our companies.”

In Michigan, days before his election, Mr. Trump told a crowd, “If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant. You’ll have plants coming into this country.”

Most of the affected GM factories, including those in Baltimore County, Maryland; Warren, Michigan; and Oshawa, Ontario — build cars that won’t be sold in the U.S. after next year, including the Chevrolet Volt rechargeable gas-electric hybrid. They could close or they could get different vehicles to build. Their futures will be part of contract talks with the United Auto Workers union next year.

Ms. Barra said the automaker doesn’t foresee an economic downturn and is making the cuts “to get in front of it while the company is strong and while the economy is strong.”

Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said he is “deeply frustrated with General Motors’ decision to shut down its Lordstown plant and disappointed with how the hardworking employees there have been treated throughout this process.”

“I once again urged GM to make a commitment to bring a new product to the plant, especially since GM is proposing to build a number of new electric vehicles,” Mr. Portman said. “In the short term, I urged GM to at least reallocate some of the production and employees to the Toledo GM plant. For decades, workers in the Mahoning Valley have made a commitment to GM, and today GM let Northeast Ohio down.”

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