President Donald Trump took a victory lap in this southeast Wisconsin community Thursday, celebrating the groundbreaking of a major new electronics production plant – proof, his administration claims, that he is delivering on campaign promises to re-energize American manufacturing, even as an iconic company nearby disclosed plans this week to shift some production overseas.
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The factory, part of a $10 billion investment by Asian electronics giant Foxconn, was announced eleven months ago at the White House and will be home to the production of LCD flat-screen panels. The facilities will be Foxconn's first in the United States, and are the result of extensive negotiations, the White House said, between the company and Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump claimed last July that the effort would "create 3,000 jobs, at a minimum, with the potential for up to 13,000 jobs."
"Today we're seeing the results of the pro-American agenda," Trump said, adding it was the embodiment of his "Make America Great Again," campaign slogan, what he called "the greatest campaign slogan in politics."
The administration appeared eager to showcase the tangible results of the president's focus on domestic job creation, with Trump and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou being joined by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, among others. The president further detailed the steps he has been taking to encourage "fair and reciprocal trade," namely tariffs.
"Frankly, the smart people love it. Some people don't understand it, but we're going to be treated fairly," Trump said, later adding that his specific frustration with Europe stemmed from the products facing taxation between the continents.
"They send us Mercedes… they send us BMWs. We send them a bushel of corn and they reject it." the president stated.
But the event took place in the wake of Harley-Davidson's revelation Monday that it would be moving the production of motorcycles bound for European markets abroad in order to circumvent European Union tariffs on more than $3 billion worth of American goods. Those taxes were imposed as a direct response to Trump's earlier steel and aluminum tariffs against the E.U. and other nations, a point underscored by Harley-Davidson in its Securities and Exchange Commission notice that announced the decision.
Harley-Davidson, headquartered in Milwaukee, where Trump spent the evening Wednesday, is 30 miles north of the Foxconn location. The company, which sent executives and a number of its motorcycles to the White House in February 2017 for a summit during which Trump thanked it "for building things in America," faced a swift backlash from the president in the aftermath of its disclosure this week.
"Build those beautiful motorcycles in the United States. Don't get cute with us," Trump said of the company Thursday. "Your customers won't be happy if you don't."
Trump earlier tweeted his belief that the tariff stand-off was "an excuse" and that Harley had already made the decision to move some of its production out of the country.
"Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never!" Trump wrote in another tweet Tuesday. "Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!"
A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2018
The Foxconn complex, said to ultimately incorporate 20 million square feet of property -- "big enough to fit about a dozen Lambeau Fields," Walker said -- will find its home in a region of the country, and of Wisconsin, that have reached new levels of political importance to the president and his fellow Republicans.
Not only did Wisconsin emerge as a somewhat surprising swing state – one that cast its 10 electoral votes for Trump, as he has frequently – during the 2016 presidential election, but Walker is expected to face a stiff challenge in November in his bid for a third term in office, and the GOP is looking to take down Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., while also protecting the retiring Ryan's 1st congressional district seat, where the Foxconn campus is located.
Critics of both Walker and the Trump administration have questioned the volume of incentives utilized to lure Foxconn to the state, as much as $3 billion, much of it coming in the form of tax credits.
The governor pushed back on the condemnation, saying at one point last year that those who didn't approve could "go suck lemons."