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Trump Touts Manufacturing Job Growth, Criticizes General Motors


President Trump was in Lima, Ohio, today touring a tank factory he says he saved from shutting down.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's all about manufacturing, and we're bringing it back in record numbers. Nobody can believe it.


KELLY: Job growth in manufacturing during his presidency will be a big part of Trump's pitch as he runs for a second term. But on the other side of Ohio, another narrative is playing out in Lordstown where GM is shuttering a plant. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In the summer of 2017, President Trump held a campaign-style rally in Youngstown, Ohio, a community that has long symbolized the decline in good manufacturing jobs in America.


TRUMP: Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area - don't sell your house. Don't sell your house.


KEITH: The jobs are all coming back, he said.


TRUMP: They're all coming back. They're all coming back.


KEITH: In that part of Ohio, counties that had long been Democratic strongholds transformed to Trump-friendly territory. Trump vastly outperformed previous Republican presidential candidates and even turned Trumbull County from blue to red. That county is home to the GM Lordstown plant where Bill Janik is one of the few workers still on the payroll.

BILL JANIK: So we are just shutting things down, and my last day is Friday, and I think very soon everybody will be out of here.

KEITH: This week, President Trump has been tweeting up a storm about Lordstown, going after GM and the local autoworkers union president, calling on them to fix this fast. Quote, "I am not happy that this is closed when everything else in our country is booming." When GM announced that it would be closing the plant where the small Chevy Cruze sedan is made, it said it was part of a larger restructuring because consumers aren't buying small cars, and GM wanted to invest in autonomous and electric vehicle technology. GM's CEO cited Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs.

MARK MURO: I could see why he's looking for someone to blame for the awkward closures at Lordstown and elsewhere.

KEITH: Mark Muro at the Brookings Institution has written about trends in manufacturing employment. The White House this week touted a surge in what it called blue-collar employment. That is, people working in jobs where they make durable goods. Two hundred fifteen thousand of those jobs were added last year. But Muro says that papers over signs of weakness in the auto industry.

MURO: Trump is right to claim that manufacturing has been growing, but unfortunately for Trump, the most visible industry within manufacturing is the auto sector. And the auto sector has distinct yellow flashing lights now and is actually beginning to - growth is decelerating.

KEITH: In Lordstown and Ohio's Mahoning Valley, there are people like Chuckie Dennison who blame Trump at least partially for what's happening.

CHUCKIE DENNISON: I mean, who would have ever thought that you could buy a new Chevy Blazer and a new Harley that wouldn't be built in America? And this is happening under his watch. And he could have done something about it, but instead, you know, he comes into the community and lies to these people and told them, do not sell your homes.

KEITH: Dennison used to work at the Lordstown plant along with his fiancee. Now he's working at a plant 45 minutes away in Ohio, and she's had to move to Tennessee to keep working for GM. It broke up his family, he says. He didn't vote for Trump, but now he's become an activist, protesting at Trump rallies with a group called Good Jobs Nation. For Bill Janik, who voted for Trump and is still inclined to support him, the tweets about Lordstown send another signal - that Trump is fighting.

JANIK: I think bringing attention to what's happening is helping our cause. I do. Trump commented about keeping this plant open. That's all we want. That's all we're doing, too.

KEITH: And as Trump gears up for his re-election campaign, when he can't point to promises kept, he instead turns to fights fought. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.