The Steel Imports Crisis Gets Its Moment in the Presidential Debate

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Oct 10 2016 |
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Trump says China is “killing” American steelworkers; Clinton hits him on his own purchases.

The second presidential debate on Sunday night will likely be remembered for a lot of things. A meaningful, thoughtful discussion of policy isn’t likely to be one of those things.

Still, despite all the absolute insanity, Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton did manage to touch on a major trade issue that impacts nearly 1 million American workers across the country: the Steel Imports Crisis.

It happened at the very end of the debate, when uncommitted voter Ken Bone asked the two candidates how they would direct energy policy to meet America’s needs, while remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers.

Trump went first, saying he will “bring our energy companies back.” He also mentioned the steel industry:

You take a look at what’s happening to steel and the cost of steel and China dumping vast amounts of steel all over the United States, which essentially is killing our steelworkers and our steel companies. We have to guard our energy companies. We have to make it possible.

Clinton responded by agreeing with Trump that China is dumping steel, and then hitting him on his own practices:

And actually — well, that was very interesting. First of all, China is illegally dumping steel in the United States and Donald Trump is buying it to build his buildings, putting steelworkers and American steel plants out of business. That’s something that I fought against as a senator and that I would have a trade prosecutor to make sure that we don’t get taken advantage of by China on steel or anything else.

This is probably a good time to remind everyone that the Alliance for American Manufacturing is a nonpartisan organization, so we are not endorsing either candidate.

And it’s also a good time to point out that China’s massive steel overcapacity will be an issue that the next president must deal with, regardless of who is elected. China’s government-owned steel companies are making far more steel than the world needs, flooding the global market and dumping steel into the United States at rock bottom prices.

The Commerce Department has issued a number of antidumping and countervailing duties to help level the playing field for U.S. workers and companies, but China continues to churn out steel. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of U.S. steelworkers are out of work and dozens of steel facilities nationwide have shut down. It's a problem that isn't going away, and the new president needs to be ready to deal with it.

Aside from that brief exchange, there was little to no discussion of manufacturing issues during the second debate, certainly not the same level of talk that took place at the start of the first debate.

We had hoped to hear more about job creation this time around, especially since the debate happened in St. Louis, a manufacturing city heavily impacted by factory job loss.

One debate left. 28 days until Election Day.