Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson July 15, 2020

Trump issues executive order on steel, and imports drop

Two-and-a-half years after his inauguration, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to implement his campaign promise to expand the use of American steel in infrastructure projects.

The July 2019 executive order, which followed Trump's earlier imposition of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, strengthened existing "Buy American" preferences by mandating that 95% of steel and iron used in federal contracts be made in the United States.

While the steel industry has been buffeted by long- and short-term challenges, including stronger foreign competition and the economic slowdown from the coronavirus pandemic, there are signs that the U.S. steel industry has gained ground against its overseas rivals.

Federal data shows that the amount of steel imported to the U.S. has been declining.

Between 2018 and 2019, the tonnage of foreign steel imported into the U.S. fell by 17%. In the first quarter of this year, the tonnage of foreign steel imported into the U.S. fell even more sharply, by almost 22%, from the same period a year earlier.

"If less structural steel is being imported from China and elsewhere, more American steel is being used to build with," said Lisa Harrison, senior vice president of communications for the American Iron and Steel Institute.

The steel industry isn't out of the woods yet; its calls for an infrastructure plan have not yet been heeded, for instance. But Trump issued the executive order he promised, and it's having at least some of its desired effect. So we rate this a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

White House, "Executive Order on Maximizing Use of American-Made Goods, Products, and Materials," July 15, 2019

American Iron and Steel Institute, "Steel Imports Down 17% in 2019," Jan. 27, 2020

American Iron and Steel Institute, "Steel Imports Down 22% Year-to-Date Through March," April 23, 2020

Washington Post, "Trump order for federal purchases of iron and steel may come too late to lift U.S. metals producers," July 15, 2019

Zacks, "US Steel Stocks Fly as Trump Mulls $1T Infrastructure Plan," June 17, 2020

Email interview with Lisa Harrison, senior vice president of communications for the American Iron and Steel Institute, July 14, 2020

By Gabrielle Healy April 5, 2017

Keystone project includes foreign steel

President Donald Trump pledged to use American steel for infrastructure projects as an appeal to working-class voters and members of the steel industry.

Now that he's in office, Trump seems to have narrowed the focus of this promise. He issued a limited presidential memorandum on Jan. 24 calling for U.S oil pipelines to use American steel in their construction.

The memorandum directed the secretary of commerce to "develop a plan under which all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipelines, inside the borders of the United States," use materials and equipment produced in the United States, "to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law."

Yet the promise has hit a couple of public relations setbacks. The high-profile Keystone XL pipeline will not have to use only American steel in its construction.White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained during a press gaggle on March 3. She said it was because the Keystone XL pipeline was not a "new" project it was not bound by the memo.

"The steel (was) already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back," said Sanders.  The company building the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada, said in a 2012 press release that half of the steel for the pipeline will come from an Arkansas plant of the India-based company Welspun.

Trump promised on the campaign trail to invest $550 billion in infrastructure spending but he has not yet offered a bill on this issue to Congress. If and when he does, we'll look to see if there are American steel requirements in the legislation.

These developments regarding the pipeline suggest Trump may run into complicating factors in trying to keep his promise to dictate what type of steel private infrastructure projects use. Thus far, we rate this promise Stalled.

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll January 16, 2017

Use U.S. steel for infrastructure projects

Donald Trump promises a significant investment in transportation, telecommunications and other infrastructure projects, and he'll use American steel to build them.

This promise is part of his overall pledge to revive the manufacturing industry.

"A Trump Administration will also ensure that we start using American steel for American infrastructure," he said in a June 2016 speech about the economy.

Despite this pledge, Trump himself has relied on Chinese steel in his real estate ventures — a contradiction critics have been quick to point out.


Trump's focus on revitalizing the American steel industry is one reason Trump appealed to voters who have been negatively affected by the shrinking number of reliable manufacturing jobs in America over the past few decades.

Trump says his plan to put steel "into the backbone" of American infrastructure will create thousands of new jobs in steel manufacturing.

American steel production was 87 million metric tons in 2013, down from a peak of 137 million metric tons in 1973. Steel industry employment was 142,000 in 2015, compared to a peak of 650,000 in 1953.

There are a few reasons for this drop. Imported steel is often cheaper than American steel because some foreign countries — most notably China  — subsidize steel production. Additionally, labor productivity has increased dramatically over the past few decades, meaning fewer people are required to do the same amount of work.


Conceivably, Trump would have to use Congress or executive orders to strengthen existing laws that encourage American product preference in federal capital infrastructure projects.

These regulations include the Buy America law, which applies to the the Department of Transportation, and internal Environmental Protection Agency rules that require certain projects to use American iron and steel.

But there are plenty of exemptions. For example, builders can get a waiver if comparable foreign products are significantly cheaper, or there is no domestic source for the desired product. And the America-first preferences don't apply to every country, due to international trade agreements — many of which Trump says he will renegotiate.


On top of plugging up the loopholes in American product preference regulations, Trump would have to confront market forces that affect how American steel prices stack up to Chinese steel prices. Also, automation and other innovations in steel production limit how many jobs he could bring back to the industry.

He might face some political pushback from Republicans who favor the free market and therefore don't want to expand these types of regulations.

Interestingly, Trump may find a friend in Democrats who do support favoring American manufacturers, as well as increasing infrastructure spending.

Latest Fact-checks