The New York Times recently reported that US Steel, a company benefiting enormously from Trump’s 25 percent steel tariff, has been able to block tariff relief because of its ties to Trump administration officials. Tariff relief would come in the form of exemption requests and many US companies are asking the Commerce Department for them.
US Steel has successfully denied many of the exemption requests because the company is allowed to object via the Commerce Department. As the New York Times reported, “[T]he Commerce Department, which is overseeing the process [of exclusion requests], also allowed American companies to argue against an exclusion request. The metal tariffs are the only ones so far to have such a process.”
What’s more, the Commerce Department has not granted any exemption requests that have received an objection from companies like US Steel.The request process began back in April, and the AP quoted David Spooner, a former US trade negotiator on the popularity of the process: “It sure seems like Commerce is just drowning in exclusion requests and will struggle to burn through them.”
As luck would have it, Spooner is also a 2018 lobbyist for US Steel. According to his Federalist Society bio: “Mr. Spooner served as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration. In that capacity, Mr. Spooner led U.S. Government enforcement of trade remedy laws, principally the antidumping and anti-subsidy laws. He administered the Foreign Trade Zone system… chaired U.S.-China talks on macroeconomic reforms and the steel industry; and supervised the US Department of Commerce’s import safety initiatives.”
But Spooner may not be the most powerful person connected to US Steel. Gene Sperling, who was a key player in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns as well as a member of both Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s administrations, sits on the board of US Steel. Back in 2016, Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch reported on comments made by Sterling while stumping for Hillary’s presidential campaign:
“Addressing the ongoing steel imports crisis is an example of where Clinton will get tough on China, Sperling said. China is creating massive amounts of steel (that is heavily subsidized by the government), far more than it can use. It needs to get rid of all that excess steel, so it is dumping it into the U.S. market at rock bottom prices, which is unfair to American workers and companies who operate in a free market and play by the rules… Clinton will make clear to China that it cannot support its own steel industry at the expense of American workers, Sperling said.”
So how does Sperling feel about Trump’s steel tariff, the tariff that benefits the company on whose board he sits? CBS News reported in January that, “Sperling voiced support for the president’s stance in regards to Beijing, saying the U.S. is justified in ;fighting against unfair trade practices by China,’ which includes allegations involving the dumping of steel and aluminum. ‘One area where I probably do have a little bit of agreement with Donald Trump is I do believe we needed to be tougher on China, on trade, so I do support that,’ said Sperling. ‘We should take a tougher line with China.'”
What’s more, US Steel has employed three former members of the Office of US Trade Representative: two from the Trump administration and one from Clinton’s.