'Corporate greed at its worst': Ohio officials slam GM's move out of an area Trump pledged to revive

Key Points
  • General Motors' move to slash production at five facilities could have political implications in swing state Ohio.
  • President Donald Trump pledged to revive manufacturing in Lordstown, Ohio, one of the areas where GM plans to lay off workers.
  • Democratic and Republican officials in Ohio, including Gov. John Kasich and Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, are criticizing GM's decision.
Sen. Sherrod Brown
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

One of the plants where General Motors plans to slash production and lay off workers next year sits in an area that President Donald Trump promised to revive, within a swing state that will help to decide his bid for a second term in the White House.

The Detroit-based automaker announced restructuring plans Monday that could result in the closure of five North American plants in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland and Canada. GM plans to lay off about 14,000 factory and white-collar workers. The company said it will cut about 15 percent of its salaried staff.

Trump says he's 'unhappy' with General Motors' restructuring plan
Trump says he's 'unhappy' with General Motors' restructuring plan

The factories, most of which build vehicle models that will not be sold in the U.S. after next year, may not close entirely, depending on United Auto Workers union negotiations. They could end up with different models to build.

Still, the move is a gut punch to one area in Ohio that Trump pledged to boost last year. GM plans to cut as many as 1,600 factory jobs at a Lordstown, Ohio, plant when it winds down production there in March. Last year, Trump — speaking about 20 miles away in Youngstown — said he saw too many empty factories in the area and promised to revive manufacturing there.

"I said, those jobs have left Ohio. They're all coming back. They're all coming back. Don't move, don't sell your house," he said at a rally in July 2017, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Democratic officials in the state saw a betrayal Monday from both GM and the president, who won Ohio in part on his pledges to renegotiate trade deals and push American companies to make products domestically. The president's opponents will likely seize on the job losses ahead of a pivotal 2020 election, when Trump may need Ohio's 18 electoral votes to win re-election.

Trump told reporters Monday that he spoke to GM CEO Mary Barra and told her he was "not happy about it." The president added that he was "very tough" and noted that members of Congress have put "a lot of pressure" on GM. He urged the company to produce another vehicle in the Ohio facility other than the Chevrolet Cruze model it currently makes there.

"I think you're going to see something else happen there. ... They better put something else in," Trump said, contending that the layoffs have nothing to do with the tariffs he imposed on steel and aluminum imports.

In a sign of the White House's unease with the move, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow will meet with Barra on Monday, CNBC confirmed.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat whose district includes Lordstown, excoriated GM and Trump on Monday. In a statement, he called the move a "bad combination of greedy corporations and policy makers with no understanding of economic development." He asked Trump to "keep his word" from when he came to Ohio's Mahoning Valley last year promising jobs would return.

"He promised us that his massive corporate tax cut would lead to dramatic reinvestments in our communities. That clearly is not happening," Ryan added. "The Valley has been yearning for the Trump Administration to come here, roll up their sleeves and help us fight for this recovery. What we've gotten instead are broken promises and petty tweets."

General Motors to cut 15-percent of workforce in North America
General Motors to cut 15-percent of workforce in North America

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a potential Democratic presidential candidate, called the decision "corporate greed at its worst." He called it "clear" that GM "doesn't respect" the Lordstown workers, and hit the company for not doing enough to reinvest the savings from its tax cuts.

Republicans took issue with the move, as well. Ohio Gov. John Kasich — another possible Trump challenger — called the move "painful" and said he would work with GM on possible ways to save the plant. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also said he was "deeply frustrated" with the decision, adding that he has worked and will continue to work with GM to find a way to keep the factory workers employed.

The White House and GM did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the criticism from lawmakers. The Trump administration has repeatedly pointed to strong job creation and gross domestic product growth as evidence of the president's success.

Lordstown sits in Trumbull County, which Trump carried by about 6,000 votes as he won Ohio in 2016. Ohio has supported the presidential election winner in every contest since 1964.

It's not just Ohio where GM's move could reverberate politically. The company plans to cut as many as 1,800 factory jobs at two facilities in Detroit and Warren, Michigan. Most will come from the Detroit plant.

In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to win Michigan since 1988, in part because of his trade and manufacturing rhetoric. But the state moved away from Trump in this year's midterms, as Democrats won both its gubernatorial and Senate races while flipping two U.S. House seats.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she was "deeply disappointed" by the move, adding that it would have a "devastating impact" on workers and their families. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said he was "extremely disappointed" and urged Congress and the Trump administration to "focus on policies that encourage automakers to invest" in the United States. 

Trump has targeted specific companies before over their restructuring or relocation plans as he tries to follow through on his campaign pledge to boost American manufacturing. He has cheered firms such as Foxconn for hiring in the U.S., and criticized companies such as Harley-Davidson for moving operations overseas.

Automakers in particular have earned Trump's ire over the years, as many have moved operations to lower-cost Mexico. Shortly before he took office in 2017, Trump targeted GM itself and threatened a "big border tax" if it did not make its Chevy Cruze model in the U.S.

Trump tweet

Ford also announced an $11 billion restructuring plan recently but has given little detail about what the overhaul will entail. Trump has repeatedly commended GM's rival for its plans to invest in Michigan plants.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who has earned Trump's ire for American businesses' decisions to relocate to his country — also said he spoke with Barra to "express [his] deep disappointment" about GM's plan to close its plant in Oshawa, Ontario.

Trudeau tweet

During negotiations for a new North American trade agreement, Trump reportedly threatened Canada with auto tariffs, which could have forced GM to move its production of the Chevrolet Impala and other models out of the Oshawa facility. The president said that "every time we have a problem with a point, I just put up a picture of a Chevrolet Impala," according to the Toronto Star.

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