In his first full workday as President of the United States, Donald Trump didn’t waste any time in implementing his ambitious trade and manufacturing agenda.
He signed an executive order pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-member free-trade agreement advocated by the Obama administration. TPP aimed to deepen economic ties between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations, cut taxes and foster trade to, hopefully, boost economic growth in the process.
Trump’s action makes the deal — at least with the U.S. involved — essentially over. It’s really been essentially dead since last summer when Trump’s republican party began to tack more populist — which it has been doing since Trump started winning primaries by appealing to working class voters — and the GOP abandoning its traditional belief in free trade doomed the partnership which never really enjoyed that much support among democrats beyond former President Barack Obama and his administration. Senator Bernie Sanders (I.- Vt.), who is in the democratic leadership despite not identifying as one, was a particularly vocal critic of TPP during his run for the democratic nomination last year.
Trump shows no signs of warming up to free trade deals and now leads a political party that looks like it’s following in lock step behind him (with some notable exceptions, of course). Trump took another step that flies in the face of traditional republican orthodoxy and met with building trades and manufacturing unions on his first working day. Watch the leaders applaud Trump as he describes “terminating” TPP. According to the White House, participants included North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey, Laborers’ International Union of North America President Terry O’Sullivan, SMART sheet metal workers’ union President Joseph Sellers, United Brotherhood of Carpenters President Doug McCarron and Mark McManus, president of the United Association that represents plumbers, pipefitters, welders and others.
The union meeting also included several local union officials and was a continuation of the discussion with the chief executives about how to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing economy. This follows earlier meetings Trump held with Teamsters President Jim Hoffa and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in New York.
Manufacturing Still Front and Center
As I wrote last summer, Trump is not changing a thing from his campaign which focused like a laser on trade and American manufacturing before any pundits or pollsters even had a clue that states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were seriously in play. This is a break from at least 20 years of party orthodoxy on both sides. If Trump can deliver more jobs, despite the ongoing threat of automation, then both parties are going to see traditional funding streams altered. Republicans getting even a split of union donations? Democrats like Obama getting support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other free trade groups? It could seriously happen.
Of course, Trump needs more than meetings. He will need a much more detailed and funded infrastructure plan and buy in from both executives and union leaders. If he wants to go farther than ending TPP, he’ll need leaders in Mexico and Canada to come to the table to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s still early, but just the mere idea that a republican president is meeting with union leaders in the White House shows how much politics has changed because of Trump. Who would have ever predicted union leaders and a republican president talking about manufacturing in the White House even one year ago?