Global trade is a hot button issue that got even hotter when President Donald Trump announced on March 1, 2018 that he would impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
In a tweet, Trump framed it this way:
"Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!"
That harkened back to Trump’s inauguration speech, when he declared: "We will follow two simple rules: ‘Buy American and hire American.’"
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, has touted a similar Buy American theme, and has introduced a bill to require the use of U.S. steel and iron on some government water projects.
Indeed, during an April 2017 visit to Snap-On in Kenosha, Trump endorsed Baldwin’s legislation: "I support the concept of everything from the U.S. I’m very much into that and I agree with her 100 percent."
Meanwhile, state Sen. Leah Vukmir of Brookfield, a Republican who hopes to challenge Baldwin in November 2018, has trashed Baldwin’s "Buy American" record as "empty words."
In an op-ed piece posted Jan. 25, 2018, on the Daily Caller website, Vukmir argued Baldwin’s support for Buy American is more show than substance. Vukmir’s piece read, in part:
Senator Baldwin and her colleagues in Washington were given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform an outdated, broken and costly tax code that discouraged job growth and investment in America, failed to reward the middle-class or boost economic growth, and lined the pockets of Washington D.C. special interests, all at the expense of hard-working citizens and small businesses. She claims to support a "Buy America" philosophy, but her actions speak louder than her empty words.
Is it true, as Vukmir claims, that Baldwin supports a proposal at the same time she is undermining it with her votes?
The supporting evidence
When asked to provide backup to support the "actions speak louder than her empty words" claim, Vukmir communications staffer Mattias Gugel wrote:
"When it comes to helping Wisconsin’s middle class and making America more competitive through pro-growth policies like tax reform, repealing Davis–Bacon and right to work, Sen. Baldwin stands in the way every single time."
Here are brief explanations of those references:
Tax reform: In December 2017, Trump signed into law a $1.5 trillion tax bill, capping a yearlong effort by the White House and Republicans in Congress to cut tax rates for corporations and individuals. The legislation marked the first major reform of the American tax system in more than 30 years. Baldwin labeled the plan a "giveaway to the wealthiest few" and voted against the measure
Davis-Bacon: The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 is a federal law that requires local "prevailing wage" pay for laborers and mechanics on public works projects. It applies to "contractors and subcontractors performing on federally funded or assisted contracts in excess of $2,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair (including painting and decorating) of public buildings or public works."
Conservative Republicans have tried to repeal Davis-Bacon, but the provision has the strong backing of the trades unions, as well as Democrats, including Baldwin, along with many moderate Republicans.
Right-to-work: These provisions exist in 28 states, including Wisconsin. In general, they provide that employees in unionized workplaces may not be compelled to join a union, nor compelled to pay for any part of the cost of union representation, while generally receiving the same benefits as union members who do contribute. Baldwin opposed the "right-to-work" measure in 2015 when it was approved in Wisconsin, arguing it would "weaken the economic security of hard working middle class families."
So, Baldwin has opposed the three measures.
But each of those examples applies more broadly to economic-related matters than to a specific Buy American plan, which was the subject of Vukmir’s claim. And, if related matters are tallied on one side of the ledger, it’s only fair to look at other actions by Baldwin.
The other side of the coin
Baldwin made the "Buy American" legislation a highlight of the first TV ads in her re-election campaign. They began running Feb. 27, 2018.
In an email, campaign spokesman Bill Neidhardt cited a series of additional measures specifically related to Buy American:
1. As a member of the House of Representatives, Baldwin introduced the CHEATS Act during the 112th Congress (2011-2012). The measure, which did not pass, would have allowed the U.S. to impose duties on Chinese imports that were receiving illegal subsidies from the Chinese government, allowing them to undercut the prices of Wisconsin’s manufacturers.
2. During the 115th Congress (2017-2018), Baldwin introduced a bill to require the president to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The TPP, put in place under President Barack Obama, was a 12-nation agreement among the United States and Pacific-rim countries that was designed in part to counter China’s rising dominance of the region.
Shortly after taking office in January 2017, Trump formally abandoned the agreement. Baldwin had labeled TPP "a bad deal for American workers."
"Instead of creating an even playing field, this deal increases the global race to the bottom in worker pay," Baldwin said in a Jan. 23, 2017, news release. "American manufacturing jobs will continue to go abroad as Buy American rules are further eroded."
3. In addition, on Feb. 20, 2018 Baldwin announced the Made in American Shipbuilding Act, which would require any vessel that was paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars to be constructed with American parts and by American workers.
(A footnote: When we asked Baldwin for her position on Trump’s tariff plan, she took a tempered approach, saying she supports sending a "strong message to bad actors" like Russia and China, but fears a blanket tariff could start a trade war that could hurt Wisconsin manufacturers and the state's agricultural economy.)
Vukmir said Baldwin "claims to support a ‘Buy American’ philosophy, but her actions speak louder than her empty words."
Vukmir cited several broad matters that relate to the economy, but none that specifically applied to undermining Buy American initiatives. Meanwhile, Baldwin has been engaged with other "Buy American" actions. Indeed, at times her views seem to align with Trump’s "America First" policies.
We rate Vukmir’s claim False.