WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump liked the sound of a Democratic bill that would punish companies for offshoring jobs, according to a senator who met with the president at the White House on Thursday.
The proposal from three Rust Belt Democrats would put companies at a disadvantage in bids for federal contacts if they’ve laid off workers and shifted production overseas. Bill co-sponsor Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) pitched it to Trump at a meeting the president held with several senators.
“He said, ‘I get it, I’m 100 percent for this type of legislation and let’s see if we can get going on it,’” Donnelly told The Huffington Post.
Of course, Trump has been known to say things he doesn’t really mean. And White House spokespeople declined to comment on Donnelly’s description of his conversation with the president. But if a Republican president supported the proposal, it would be significant. For years, Democrats have introduced similar bills designed partly to stop companies from offshoring jobs ― and especially to shame Republicans who vote no.
“It’s always been a message bill in the past,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an advocacy group funded by steel companies and the United Steelworkers union.
“It’s also fair to say that the playing field may have shifted a little bit,” Paul said. “You have a president who at least says he objects to these practices.”
During the campaign, Trump objected strongly to firms laying off workers and building plants in other countries. He frequently bashed Carrier, an air-conditioner manufacturer that had planned to shutter an Indiana factory and shift production to Mexico. After he won the election last November, Trump successfully bullied the company into changing its plans.
Though Carrier received modest tax breaks for keeping the plant open, a bigger factor may have been that its parent company, United Technologies, is a big government contractor that didn’t want to risk angering the president. The firm’s CEO partly explained the deal by saying “about 10 percent off our revenue comes from the U.S. government.”
Donnelly’s legislation, co-sponsored with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would essentially subject every government contractor to the same kind of pressure Carrier got. Firms that have laid off large numbers of workers and moved production abroad would be put on a public list and have points subtracted from their bids for federal contracts. It’s not clear how many jobs such a policy might save, but there’s big money involved. The Department of Defense spends nearly $300 billion a year on contracts.
At Thursday’s meeting, Donnelly said he pointed out to the president that Friday will be the anniversary of Carrier executives telling workers they would all be fired and their jobs shipped to Mexico ― a moment captured on viral video. Donnelly has been advocating on behalf of other Indiana workers losing their jobs to offshoring, including workers at a Rexnord Corp. plant a mile from the Carrier factory.
“I said, ‘Look, I need your help on this,’” Donnelly said. “’I know you’ve talked about this repeatedly and you’ve worked on this issue, and I know it’s important to you, and together we want to keep these jobs in the United States.’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Trump invited several Republican and Democratic senators to the White House Thursday to sell them on Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.