Donald Trump’s victory tour launched early.
The president- and vice president-elect on Thursday claimed the first win of their nascent administration, ostensibly fulfilling a campaign pledge to keep American manufacturing jobs at home.
Hours ahead of their joint rally in Cincinnati — the first stop on the duo’s “thank you” tour across the country — Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence toured the heating and air conditioning company Trump often name-checked on the campaign trail Thursday afternoon.
Carrier, a company that had planned to shutter its Indianapolis plant and move to Mexico, had been a parable of Trump’s protectionist, anti-globalism, America-first stance.
But now that America’s incoming businessman-in-chief has struck a deal, the company could serve as a harbinger among Trump supporters that he can, indeed, bring much-needed change to Washington and make good on his bold pledges.
“We’re gonna have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they’re thinking about leaving this country because they’re not leaving this country,” declared Trump, who spoke for roughly 15 minutes between a Carrier-branded lectern and a backdrop on a stage he also shared with an air conditioning unit.
“They’re not gonna leave this country, and the workers are gonna keep their jobs,” he continued “And they can leave from state to state and they can negotiate good deals with the states and all of that, but leaving the country’s gonna be very, very difficult.”
According to a Wall Street Journal report, state officials agreed to give Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies Corp., $7 million in tax breaks over a 10-year span to retain 1,000 or so jobs at the heating and air conditioning company’s Indianapolis plant.
Even so, it still plans ship 600 jobs to Mexico from the Indianapolis plant and another 700 jobs from a Huntington plant the company still plans to shutter — a detail Trump, Pence and United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes ignored in their addresses touting the deal.
Hayes said United Technologies would invest $16 million to renovate the plant, but Trump cast that figure as the minimum total and maintained that companies won’t leave the homeland anymore “without consequence.”
“I just wanna let all of the other companies know that we’re gonna do great things for businesses. No reason for them to leave anymore, because your taxes are gonna be at the very, very low end, and your unnecessary regulations are gonna be gone,” he said. “These companies aren’t gonna be leaving anymore. They’re not gonna be taking people’s hearts out. They’re not going to be announcing, like they did at Carrier, that they’re closing up and they’re moving to Mexico.”
Trump repeatedly reverted back to campaign form, harping on off-topic subjects like his defiant primary victory in Indiana, his Election Day win there, his endorsement from former Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach Bobby Knight and even the relief of not having to mention Bill or Hillary Clinton when he slammed NAFTA.
But he also detailed how the deal came about, recalling that his declaration that Carrier would never leave wasn’t to be taken literally. However, an unnamed handsome worker, he said, told a nightly news show — which Trump declined to name — that Carrier wasn’t going anywhere because Trump promised just that.
“I never thought I made that promise,” Trump said. “Not with Carrier. I made it for everybody else. I didn’t make it really for Carrier.”
But he did say “Carrier will never leave,” he eventually conceded. “But that was a euphemism. I was talking about Carrier like all other companies here on in because they made the decision [to relocate] a year and a half ago.”
So Trump phoned Hayes, whom he suggested wouldn’t have answered had Trump lost.
“It’s wonderful to win,” he said, adding that even if he had lost on Election Day, “I would have tried for you but I think it would have been tougher.”
In their discussion, Trump said he stressed the importance for Carrier to stay in the U.S. and told Hayes he had to help prevent that. And when he was told that the plant in Mexico was already built, Trump said he didn’t care and it doesn’t make a difference.
“Rent it, sell it, knock it down — I don’t care,” Trump recalled telling Hayes.
The president-elect said he told the workers Thursday “the good will that you have engendered by doing this — all over the world, frankly, but within our country — you watch how fast you’re gonna make it up because so many people are gonna be buying Carrier air conditioners.”
He also predicted the 1,100 jobs he helped save will “go up very substantially.” But the president’s de facto endorsement of Carrier could be perceived as corporate welfare, prove damaging to its competition and put Trump’s administration in a difficult position should other companies seek similar deals by threatening to move outside the U.S.
The White House gave Trump credit Thursday for saving jobs but reminded reporters that 1,000 jobs is just a fraction of what President Barack Obama has accomplished in the White House.
“That’s obviously good news and an announcement that we would welcome,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “But, again, as I mentioned yesterday, Mr. Trump would have to make 804 more announcements just like that to equal the standard of jobs in the manufacturing sector that were created in this country under President Obama’s watch.”
Critics, however, warn that Trump’s move could set a dangerous, unsustainable precedent. While, as Trump noted, families can enjoy their Christmas now that jobs at the plant are secure, Trump’s deal is a hyperlocal agreement keeps a single plant open. While it saves those families from having to relocate and its workers from having to hunt for new jobs, it’s not a national solution to offshoring and automation.
“Instead of a damn tax, the company will be rewarded with a damn tax cut. Wow!” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote a Washington Post op-ed. “How’s that for standing up to corporate greed? How’s that for punishing corporations that shut down in the United States and move abroad? In essence, United Technologies took Trump hostage and won. And that should send a shock wave of fear through all workers across the country.”
Trump’s transition team cast the move as “a big win for the administration but an even bigger win for the people of Indiana.”
“Even bigger than that, the message it’s sending to workers across the country and manufacturers,” Trump transition communications director Jason Miller told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning. “This an example of the leadership of Vice President-elect Pence working with the president-elect in getting these deals done.”
While Trump antagonist Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) chalked the deal up to “more corporate welfare and cronyism” and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) challenged the media and politicians not to distort the reality that there is no simple solution to the declining number of manufacturing jobs, House Speaker Paul Ryan was all smiles.
“I’m pretty happy that we’re keeping jobs in America,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. “Aren’t you? I don’t know the details of the Carrier arrangement … but I think it’s pretty darn good that people are keeping their jobs in Indiana instead of going to Mexico.”
An official who will play a key role in approving the deal told POLITICO on Wednesday that the negotiation likely hinged on United Technologies’ fear of losing business with the federal government, and a senior transition aide identified Pence as the man who played a key role in the negotiations.
But the Indiana governor gave all the credit to Trump on Thursday.
“When Donald Trump was running for president, he said that if was elected president of the United States, America would start winning again. Well, today America won, and we have Donald Trump to thank,” Pence said. “And I got a feeling, working beside this extraordinary man, this is just the beginning of a lot more good news all across America.”
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