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Can Trump Stop GM From Shutting Down 4 U.S. Plants?


The announcement from General Motors that it will halt production at five North American factories, including four in the U.S., prompted disappointment from President Trump. And today, the president tweeted a threat to cut federal subsidies to GM.


Now, one of the factories targeted for cuts is the giant Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio, a state that was key to Trump's 2016 election victory. He insists that GM will find a new product for that plant and that it will stay open. And the president promised to apply pressure. NPR's Don Gonyea reports on what that might entail.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It was almost 10 years ago when President Obama pushed for and got a $50 billion bailout for General Motors. It worked. The company has paid back its loan, and GM survives. But that hasn't made the company immune to market changes, hence the bad news yesterday. President Trump's reaction was predictable.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, we don't like it. I believe they'll be opening up something else.

GONYEA: He spoke in the South Lawn of the White House on his way to the helicopter. Trump said he'd talked to GM CEO Mary Barra.


TRUMP: I was very tough. I spoke with her when I heard they were closing. And I said, you know, this country's done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon. That's Ohio, and you better get back in there soon.

GONYEA: In those comments, Trump singled out Ohio. It's a place he carried easily in 2016, largely by promising to bring manufacturing, cars, steel and coal production roaring back. It's a pitch the president continues to make. This announcement from GM disrupts that narrative. Labor analyst Harley Shaiken of the University of California, Berkeley.

HARLEY SHAIKEN: The rhetoric has been sharp. The delivery has been meager to non-existent.

GONYEA: He notes that Trump promised to scrap the North American free trade agreement, which autoworkers have long despised, saying it led to a transfer of jobs to Mexico. There is a newly negotiated replacement for NAFTA, but Shaiken notes it's not yet been approved.

SHAIKEN: The new NAFTA lays out the campaign promise but hardly makes good on it because it hasn't touched one of the primary drivers and attractions of moving to Mexico, suppressed wages.

GONYEA: Trump is predicting he'll be able to change GM's mind. But the entity with the best chance of doing that may be the United Auto Workers Union, which will negotiate a new contract with GM next summer. The UAW could trade concessions for U.S. jobs at these plants.

Detroit-based auto analyst John McElroy says the Trump White House will largely be on the sidelines in that fight. It can ask Congress to offer tax incentives and do other things on the margins, according to McElroy. But, he adds, there is one thing GM may be concerned about.

JOHN MCELROY: I think they're more worried about him causing trouble for them than for him doing anything in their favor.

GONYEA: And what might that mean?

MCELROY: The president can get on Twitter and start saying that GM is a bad company. And, you know, certainly, amongst the people that follow Trump, they could decide, yeah, I'm not going to buy a GM product. That alone could cost a lot of problems for GM.

GONYEA: And this afternoon, as if on cue, the president was on Twitter calling GM ungrateful and saying, quote, "we are now looking at cutting all GM subsidies including for electric cars." That's likely just the beginning. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.