What do Republican senators J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley and
Marco Rubio and Democratic senators John Fetterman, Sherrod Brown and Joe
Manchin have in common? They’re part of the strong bipartisan opposition to
Japan’s Nippon Steel’s acquisition of U.S.
Steel. Expect that opposition to grow larger and louder.
In my previous column, I
wrote about the historical cultural shock of the Nippon-U.S. Steel deal. As
someone born in Pittsburgh and raised in this area in the ’70s and ’80s, with
roots and relatives in the industry, the idea of Japan’s top steel producer
buying U.S. Steel would have once been a tremendous shock to this region. I
quoted an older friend, David, who literally evoked memories of Pearl Harbor.
David and I were both struck by the somewhat subdued “who cares?” attitude of
many locals to this big news.
That column made no mention
of the bipartisan opposition to the deal. That opposition is intense. One
wonders if it could torpedo the whole thing.
Immediately after U.S. Steel
announced the acquisition, Vance, Hawley and Rubio fired off a letter to Biden
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warning of the deal’s “dire implications for
the industrial base of the United States” and threat to U.S. national security.
Fetterman likewise has been
out in front.
“It’s absolutely outrageous
that U.S. Steel has agreed to sell themselves to a foreign company,” said
Fetterman. “I am committed to doing anything I can do … to block this foreign
Manchin called it “a major blow to the American steel industry”
and vowed to do “everything we can to prevent” it.
Well, now add to the
opposition presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Writing in Newsweek,
Kennedy says the deal “requires vigorous and unambiguous opposition.” He said
flatly, “I am opposed to the sale,” which he claimed was “struck behind closed
doors without the participation of the United Steelworkers of America.”
Kennedy’s voice portends
something significant: Remember, this is a presidential election year. That
timing couldn’t be worse for Nippon Steel. Pennsylvania is the swing state of
swing states. President Biden will campaign here, his home state, and former
President Donald Trump, who has strong appeal to Pennsylvania blue-collar
voters, no doubt is planning huge rallies. Neither Biden nor Trump can remain
neutral on this deal.
A lot of steelworkers voted
for Trump in 2016 and 2020. As president, he gave them the tariffs they
couldn’t get from Democratic or Republican presidents. Their union dubs the
Nippon deal “greedy” and “shortsighted.”
One doesn’t see
bipartisanship often, but it’s happening here. The question is whether that
opposition can stop the deal.
The senators are certainly
trying. Vance, Hawley and Rubio told Yellen, who chairs the Committee on
Foreign Investment in the United States, the federal agency that reviews
foreign transactions of U.S. companies to determine whether they harm national
security, that the committee “can and should block the acquisition of U.S.
Steel by NSC.” Included as members of CFIUS are the secretaries of the
Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State.
Those are major players, and
that’s Biden’s agency, in a year when Biden badly needs Pennsylvania votes.
Will Biden’s agency try to stop the Nippon acquisition?
The politics are going to be
intense. U.S. Steel’s decision is more explosive than surely it realized.
Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the
Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.