South Carolina electronics company in district that Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney represented in Congress gets an exemption from new China tariffs

  • A television assembly company in the South Carolina county that Office of Management and Budget Chief Mick Mulvaney represented in Congress has won an exemption from new tariffs that the Trump administration is imposing on goods made in China.
  • The decision to grant a waiver for Element Electronics of Winnsboro, South Carolina, led the firm to reverse its previously announced decision to close its plant, which employs more than 130 people.
  • Element is the only assembler of televisions located in the United States. The company uses TV components that are made in China.
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2018.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2018.

A television assembly company in a South Carolina county that Office of Management and Budget Chief Mick Mulvaney represented in Congress has won an exemption from new tariffs that the Trump administration is imposing on goods made in China.

The decision to grant a waiver to Element Electronics of Winnsboro, South Carolina, led the firm to reverse its previously announced decision to close its plant, which employs more than 130 people, in the face of looming tariffs.

Element is the only assembler of televisions located in the United States. The company uses TV components that are made in China.

"Element Electronics is currently and will continue to do business throughout the U.S. with its many incredible retail partners," a company representative said in a statement emailed to CNBC. "While there have been some recent changes to its South Carolina assembly facility, that will not impact the tremendous commitment the company has to provide great products and incredible support to all consumers."

In August, the company had written federal officials saying that it expected to close the factory starting Oct. 5, hopefully for only "three to six months," blaming the "new tariffs that were recently and unexpectedly imposed on many goods imported from China."

Element had relocated to South Carolina's Fairfield County from China five years ago, after receiving grant money, during the tenure of Nikki Haley as governor. Haley is currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

At the time of that relocation, Mulvaney was representing Fairfield County in Congress.

State Sen. Mike Fanning, whose district includes the Element factory, said the effort to exempt the company from tariffs include outreach to the Trump administration by South Carolina's elected officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster, an ally of President Donald Trump.

Fanning also said that Mulvaney had spoken to others in the Trump administration as part of the push to exempt Element from the tariffs.

The state senator said the team pushing the administration for the waiver for Element highlighted the company's status as the only domestic assembler of TVs, and the fact that there is no American company from which to buy television components to replace the Chinese components at risk of having tariffs imposed.

Fanning said those factors made Element a unique case, worthy of a waiver.

Referring to McMaster and Mulvaney and their ties to Trump, Fanning said, "If we didn't have that relationship, I don't think we would have really been able to tell that story" to federal officials.

A spokesman for Mulvaney declined to comment on Fanning's characterization of Mulvaney's role in helping to obtain the waiver for Element.

A spokesman for McMaster did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

But in an email to the Greenville News, the spokesman said, "The governor has said from day one that we needed to exercise patience throughout this process and most of us have done that."

"This is great news for Fairfield County, Element Electronics, and all of Team South Carolina that worked hard to make sure the facts were known and that Element's case was made to the administration," the spokesman wrote.

The press office of the United States Trade Representative said, in a prepared statement to CNBC, that "USTR declines to discuss specific product removals or additions" from the list of products subject to tariffs.

"USTR career officials and the interagency Section 301 Committee carefully review all public comments received during public notice and comment periods and testimony delivered at public hearings," the press office said. "Based on this transparent, robust and comprehensive review process, modifications to the proposed tariff list are made, taking into account the likely impact on U.S. consumers and the U.S. economy."

— CNBC's Kate Rogers contributed to this report.

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