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Grand Rapids – Vice President Mike Pence celebrated controversial import tariffs Wednesday afternoon at a steel processing facility in Grand Rapids, arguing American steel is coming back “thanks to the leadership of President Donald Trump.”

In his eight visit to Michigan since taking office less than two years ago, Pence said also touted federal tax cuts and offered a tribute to businessman Rich DeVos, a philanthropist and Republican heavyweight who died last week at 92.

The Trump administration in March announced 25 percent tariffs on foreign steel and 10 percent tariffs on foreign aluminum, a move Pence described as “decisive action to protect against dumping by foreign companies.”

“Get ready to get even busier,” the vice president told company officials and hard-hat workers in a 22-minute speech set against a backdrop of large steel rolls and United States flag.

The steel tariffs are expected to benefit domestic producers, but they’ve also sparked retaliatory tariffs from other countries that were not exempted. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warn the tariffs will hurt companies that rely on metal imports and raise prices for consumers on some products.

Michigan accounts for 3.8 percent of the nation’s metal imports, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation, which estimated in March than an across-the-board tariff could cost companies here a combined $340 million in 2018. The taxes would affect business decisions and could “eventually be passed on to consumers through higher prices,” according to the analysis.

Trump's retaliatory trade policy, considered a strength in the 2016 campaign, is opposed by most Michigan voters, according to a Sept. 5-7 poll conducted for The Detroit News. Half of the 600 likely state voters surveyed opposed Trump's imposing trade sanctions on other countries, while 41 percent supported them and the remaining 9 percent were undecided.  

The poll conducted by Lansing-based Glengariff Group had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is also set to visit Michigan Wednesday and will headline a fundraiser for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer in Bloomfield Hills.

Pence was joined at the Grand Rapids event by Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland. He was also introduced by Mill Steel President and CEO David Samrick, who in February gave the company’s 400 full-time employees across the country a one-time $1,000 bonus, citing corporate tax cuts that were part of a larger tax break package Trump signed into law late last year.

“American jobs and American growth happens when you get out of the way of the American people, which is exactly what we’re doing in this administration,” Pence said, also noting moves to reduce government regulations.

The vice president’s latest visit to Michigan comes with less than eight weeks to go until the Nov. 6 election. Attorney General Bill Schutte, the Republican nominee to replace term-limited Snyder, did not attend the rally and was busy raising money in Metro Detroit, his campaign said.

U.S. Senate candidate John James, whom Pence fundraised for last month, did not attend because it was an official White House event and not a campaign stop.

But Pence used his speech to rib incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, whom he described as one of Michigan’s two “liberal senators” who opposed the federal tax cut plan, which she said would be a bad deal for Michigan.

Stabenow “said the proof will be in your paychecks,” Pence told Mill Steel workers. “I expect when you got that $1,000 bonus, you saw the proof is in your paycheck, and that tax cuts are working for the people of Michigan.”

Despite the growing state and national economy, the Detroit News poll showed a plurality of Michigan voters say they believe the nation is on the wrong track. The survey of 600 likely voters showed Trump remains unpopular in Michigan and could drag down other Republican candidates in the mid-term election.  

About 37 percent voters said they had a favorable opinion of the president, compared with 57 percent who had an unfavorable opinion.

The numbers were virtually unchanged from a January 2018 poll. The survey did not measure Pence’s popularity.

The vice president was last in Michigan on Aug. 29, when he attended a Bloomfield Hills fundraiser for James. Pence headlined a GOP unity rally on Aug. 8 in Grand Rapids, where he celebrated with James and Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Republican nominee for governor.

Snyder did not attend the unity rally and has so far declined to endorse Schuette in his gubernatorial race against Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and third-party candidates.

The governor greeted Pence on the tarmac Wednesday, and the two exchanged compliments during their remarks at Mill Steel.

Pence praised Snyder for a “job well done” over the past eight years in Michigan.

“When I was governor of the state of Indiana I had to compete with this governor every day of the week for jobs, and I’m glad to not be doing that anymore,” he said.

Snyder noted Pence’s regular visits to the state and joked that he was “trying to get him to be a resident.”

Joined by his wife Karen in Grand Rapids, Pence was also expected to meet privately with the DeVos family on the day of a public remembrance for Rich DeVos, the co-founder of Amway and father-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

DeVos was a “great American” who “literally embodied the American dream,” Pence said. He left an “indelible mark on this city, this state and this nation.”

Pence closed his speech by saying the best way to remember DeVos was through imitation.

“We’re going to fight for a safer and more prosperous America build on the timeless principles that have always made America great,’ he said. “…And to borrow a phrase, we’re going to make America great again”

Pence did not discuss health care or efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act after Congress failed to repeal the law, but Democrats used his visit to attack James and Schuette on those fronts. They suggested the Republican candidates will “both rubber stamp the Trump administration's plan that includes tearing up health care and ripping coverage away from Michiganders with pre-existing health conditions.”

Schuette is a vocal critic federal health care law, known as Obamacare, and has fought it in court. But on the campaign trail he has said he would like any replacement law to continue to guarantee coverage for residents with pre-existing conditions.

Schuette told The Associated Press in a Wednesday interview that Michigan's Medicaid expansion is "the law" and isn't "going anywhere." He said as governor, he would focus on Medicaid work requirements that the Legislature passed this year and which the Snyder administration has asked the Trump administration to approve with a waiver.

The vice president was a staple in Michigan during the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, which Trump ended with an election night rally in downtown Grand Rapids just hours before becoming the first Republican to win Michigan since 1988. 

Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed. 

joosting@detroitnews.com

 

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