Election 2024: Joe Biden Opposes the Sale of U.S. Steel to Nippon Steel
from The Water's Edge and Renewing America

Election 2024: Joe Biden Opposes the Sale of U.S. Steel to Nippon Steel

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: Joe Biden doesn’t want one of America’s closest allies to buy a once iconic American company.
An entrance to the U.S. Steel Great Lakes Works plant in Ecorse, Michigan.
An entrance to the U.S. Steel Great Lakes Works plant in Ecorse, Michigan. Rebecca Cook/Reuters

President Joe Biden yesterday announced his opposition to Japan-based Nippon Steel’s plan to purchase U.S. Steel. His decision no doubt makes for good politics. But it exposes a tension at the core of his foreign policy.

U.S. Steel agreed last December to sell itself to Nippon Steel for $14.1 billion. It was hardly a rash decision. The company that was formed nearly 125 years ago by legendary investor J.P. Morgan has struggled in recent decades to compete against cheaper foreign-made steel, even with the aid of periodic rounds of protection. U.S. Steel entertained offers from domestic rivals before accepting Nippon Steel’s substantially higher offer. Nippon Steel will become the world’s third-largest steel company if the deal goes through.

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The question is whether it will. The sale is now under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). That review, which assesses the sale’s impact on U.S. national security, could take a year or more. The odds are good that even if the sale gets the go-ahead, the approval will come with conditions.

Opponents aren’t waiting, however, to see what CFIUS decides. The president of the United Steelworkers, which represents most of U.S. Steel’s workers, has blasted the proposed sale as “greedy” and “shortsighted.” In late January, Donald Trump vowed to “block it instantaneously” if he returned to the White House. Noting that he imposed tariffs in 2018 on imported steel, the forty-fifth president added: “We saved the steel industry. Now, U.S. Steel is being bought by Japan. So terrible.”

Trailing in the polls and with the union vote poised to play a pivotal role in battleground states in November, Biden had good electoral reasons to oppose the deal. His statement announcing his opposition avoided the question of why Japanese ownership of a U.S. steel producer harmed the United States. Biden instead stressed his solidarity with steelworkers. “I told our steelworkers I have their backs, and I meant it.” That solidarity may not win Biden new supporters. It will likely save him from losing support by denying Trump a line of attack.

But smart domestic politics doesn’t necessarily translate into wise foreign policy. Biden came to office three years ago vowing to strengthen ties with friends and allies. He didn’t do so for nostalgia’s sake. He instead saw rallying the like-minded as essential to achieving his top foreign policy priority—countering China. His theory of the case was that mobilizing America’s many friends and allies would give Washington the upper hand over Beijing.

In the intervening three years, U.S. allies have shown themselves ready to answer the call. But the Biden administration has frequently failed to reciprocate. Whether it has been leaving many of Trump’s tariffs in place, allowing the World Trade Organization to continue to wither, negotiating the AUKUS deal, discriminating against foreign producers with the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, and now by opposing the sale of U.S. Steel, the message that Biden administration has been sending, whether unintentional or not, is that Washington is interested in what it can get and not in what it can give. That indifference to the interests of others may come back to haunt the administration.

More on:

United States

Election 2024

Elections and Voting

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy

Campaign Update

What was obvious last week became official this week: Biden and Trump are set as the presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties. Biden won big in Georgia, Mississippi, and Washington. Trump ran up similarly large victories in those same states plus Hawaii. Those wins gave both Biden and Trump a majority of the nominating delegates in their party.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said on Wednesday that he would announce his choice of a running mate on March 26. Kennedy’s announcement came a day after he said he was considering former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and current New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers as running mates. Other rumored running mates for Kennedy include former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, former Hawaii Congresswoman and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, TV host Mike Rowe, and entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic candidate Andrew Yang. Kennedy has qualified for the general election ballot in Utah. He is close to qualifying to run in six other states, including the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada.

The Candidates in Their Own Words

Trump delivered his response to Biden’s State of the Union address at a campaign rally in Rome, Georgia, on Saturday night. He panned Biden’s address as “the worst State of the Union speech in history,” an “angry, dark, hate-filled rant” that was “the most divisive, partisan, radical, and extreme” in U.S. history. 

Trump argued that by sending aid to Palestinians in Gaza, Biden was seeking “to resupply the terrorists of Hamas.” Trump also asserted that what “Biden has done on our border is a crime against humanity and the people of this nation for which he will never be forgiven.” 

As the U.S. House prepared this week to vote to compel the Chinese owner of TikTok to either sell the company or shut down its operations in the United States, Trump continued to oppose the bill. As president, he supported the effort to compel TikTok’s sale or closure. He justified his change of mind in part on the grounds that banning the social media platform would make young Americans “go crazy.”

Biden, in contrast, supported the House bill, which is officially known as H.R.7521—Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.

Biden gave MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart an interview on Saturday. The president explained that his hot mic comment after last week’s State of the Union address—he was heard saying “I told Bibi, don’t repeat this, you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting”—was merely meant to convey that the two men needed to have “a serious meeting.”

Biden added that, “in my view, [Netanyahu] is hurting Israel more than helping Israel” with the high loss of civilian life in Gaza. “It’s contrary to what Israel stands for. And I think it’s a big mistake. So, I want to see a [six-week] ceasefire.” When asked if an Israeli attack on Rafah would cross a red line for him, Biden said: “It is a red line, but I’m never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical, so there’s no red line [where] I’m going to cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them. But there’s red lines... he cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead as a consequence of going after [Hamas]. There’s other ways... to deal with the trauma caused by Hamas.”

What the Pundits Are Saying

Tom Nichols wrote in The Atlantic that Trump should not receive briefings from the U.S. intelligence community even though he is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Nichols contends that “Trump is an anti-American, debt-ridden, unstable man who has voiced his open support for violent seditionists. If he were any other citizen asking for the privilege of handling classified material, he would be sent packing.”

Susan Glasser listened to Trump’s Saturday night rally in Rome, Georgia, and thinks you should too, because of “the pointed contrast” between Biden’s State of the Union address and Trump’s response. “Like so much about Trump’s 2024 campaign, this insane oration was largely overlooked and under-covered, the flood of lies and B.S. seen as old news from a candidate whose greatest political success has been to acclimate a large swath of the population to his ever more dangerous alternate reality. No wonder Biden, trapped in a real world of real problems that defy easy solutions, is struggling to defeat him.”

Noah Rothman argued in the National Review that “the difference between Trump and Biden.” In Rothman’s view, neither Trump nor Biden “seek to establish a stark division between them on issues as central to the American economy as foreign trade,” where both favor protectionist policies.

What the Polls Show

Pundits praised Biden for his State of the Union address last week. Some voters agreed. An ABC/Ipsos poll found that 44 percent of Americans who knew of the speech thought it was better than they expected. That compared to 18 percent who thought it was worse than they expected. That said, the speech doesn’t look to have changed minds. A Yahoo News/YouGov survey found no evidence that the speech gave Biden a bump. That result doesn’t look to be an outlier. FiveThirtyEight’s opinion ratings average shows that opinions of Biden are essentially unchanged in the aftermath of the State of the Union. So much for the bully pulpit.

Perhaps bearing out the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder, a USA Today/Suffolk poll found that 49 percent of voters now give a thumbs up to Trump's job performance as president. Trump’s approval rating never surpassed that mark during his presidency.

Gallup released a poll showing that Americans aren’t feeling love from overseas. Just 42 percent of respondents think that the United States is viewed “very favorably” or “somewhat favorably” in “the eyes of the world.” That’s down seven percentage points from a year ago. Just 37 percent thought that “leaders of other countries around the world have respect for” Biden, down from 58 percent shortly after he took office. That makes Biden the third of the last four presidents to see answers to that question slope downward over the course of his presidency. The one exception? Trump. But while Trump saw that trend line inch upward during his presidency, his best number was just 37 percent.

The Campaign Schedule

The oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Trump’s claim to enjoy blanket immunity for any committed while president are forty-one days away (April 25, 2024).

The Republican National Convention opens in Milwaukee in 122 days (July 15, 2024).

The Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago in 157 days (August 19, 2024).

Election Day is 235 days away.

Inauguration Day is 311 days away.

Sinet Adous and Aliya Kaisar assisted in the preparation of this post.

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