S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster is in Washington this week, trying to convince the Trump administration to reject tariffs that could hurt S.C. jobs — and his campaign donors.
South Korean-based Samsung and the solar industry have raised at least $50,000 for McMaster’s 2018 campaign. In return for those donations, McMaster’s campaign gave them access to President Donald Trump during a Greenville event.
The campaign donations could be dollars well spent. Trump must decide soon whether to impose tariffs that Samsung and the solar companies say would prevent them from expanding in the Palmetto State.
In October, before a Greenville event for Trump to endorse McMaster, the governor introduced the president personally to Samsung representatives who are fighting a proposed 50 percent tariff on imported large residential washing machines. The company says the tariff could jeopardize its plans to open a major plant in Newberry County.
Jon Downey, president of South Current, a solar-farm company, also was at the Greenville event, making his case directly to the president about why tariffs on imported solar panels would hurt his industry. “It was not an in-depth conversation, but really more of a primer that that is an issue that we’re very concerned about,” Southern Current’s vice president Bret Sowers said.
The tariffs would raise the cost of the solar panels, stalling the industry’s efforts to expand, impacting S.C. jobs, Sowers said.
McMaster, who is pitching economic development as his top campaign issue, is sending the right message by his Washington lobbying, Sowers said. “If you’re in business in South Carolina, and there are issues that are going to negatively affect jobs in South Carolina or businesses, he’s going to fight for it.”
A direct line to Trump
Trump has until Jan. 13 to decide whether to impose a tariff on imported solar panels and until Feb. 1 to rule on tariffs for imported washing machines. The International Trade Commission recommended the punishments after finding those imports have unfairly hurt U.S. manufacturers.
At first blush, opposing the tariffs puts McMaster at odds with Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, where the Republican pitched an America-first trade agenda that could include tariffs on imports. But McMaster and others are arguing Trump’s manufacturing goals could be better achieved by rewarding foreign companies that invest in U.S. plants.
McMaster could be an especially persuasive voice. He has a direct line to Trump and administration officials nearly two years after the S.C. Republican endorsed the improbable nominee in the state’s pivotal GOP presidential primary.
“The fact that he can pick up a phone and get in touch with a decision-maker in the White House whenever he needs to is a valuable commodity” for the state, said Tim Pearson, McMaster’s political adviser.
McMaster: Tariffs ‘go against’ Trump
In Washington, McMaster met Monday with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to argue against a tariff on Samsung. Wednesday, he met with Peter Navarro, the White House director of trade and industrial policy, on the same issue.
The visits follow up on McMaster’s October campaign event, where Trump hit the stage and sang Samsung’s praises after meeting the companies’ representatives.
“The Samsung people, they’re a great company,” Trump said, directing his remarks to company representatives in the audience. “I have bought a lot of Samsung television sets over the years. Thousands, thousands.
“Washing machines? They make good washing machines,” he added.
Samsung and the solar industry bundled together at least $50,000 in cash for McMaster’s election campaign, granting them access to the president at the Greenville event.
On Wednesday, McMaster also stopped by the Washington headquarters of the U.S. trade representative to weigh in on the policy debate about solar panels.
Tariffs on imported solar panels could stall the growth of solar farms around the state, advocates say. The only manufacturers that can provide panels by the thousands — the number needed to set up solar farms — are companies overseas in places like Taiwan, Malaysia and China, Sowers said.
At a public hearing, McMaster opposed the solar tariff, saying he was representing the interests of S.C. solar panel installers and others who rely on affordable imported goods to make their livelihoods.
“By putting a tariff on incoming solar sales and panels, it raises the price and makes them too expensive to buy, and that will depress the growth of the solar market,” McMaster said in an interview after testimony. “This tariff ... is going against what President Trump wants to do, which is to spur and facilitate economic growth and industrial growth in the country.”