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Sen. Claire McCaskill On Tariffs' Impact


On the website for Mid Continent Nail Corporation, the nation's largest nail manufacturer, it says its name is meant to convey its mission - to be located in the heart of the United States. Fittingly, its company's headquarters is in Poplar Bluff, Mo. But there is talk now of the company possibly moving to Mexico to survive. Mid Continent is suffering from tariffs that President Trump has put on steel and aluminum coming from Mexico. The company had to lay off 60 workers last week, and a spokesman said 500 more jobs are in severe jeopardy. Claire McCaskill is a Democratic senator from the state of Missouri. She joins us this morning.

Senator, welcome.


GREENE: So what can you do right now to make sure this company does not shut down or at least to make sure it stays in the United States and doesn't move to Mexico?

MCCASKILL: Well, honestly, it's a helpless feeling because the process that the Commerce Department has put in place for exclusions is chaotic. There's been some incompetence. They have 22,000 exclusions that have been filed, and only 98 have been allowed. And it does...

GREENE: Oh, so you're saying this company could, in theory, apply for an exclusion to get...


GREENE: ...Away from these tariffs, but the administration is not processing them in an efficient way. That's what you're saying here.

MCCASKILL: They're not only not processing them in an efficient way, but they are getting objected to. And Secretary Ross in the hearing where I questioned him about this acknowledged that if the steel producers make any objection, the exclusions will not be granted. And frankly, even if they are granted, we're on a ticking clock here. I mean, this company is telling me all these jobs will be lost in Missouri by Labor Day. Half of their workforce will be gone by the end of July. Their demand for their product, because of the price hike, has dropped to less than half of what it was.

GREENE: I just want to - I just want to get one thing clear from you here. You're saying that an exclusion would be important for this company. Do you agree with the president's overall agenda? I mean, you've supported different kinds of tariffs in the past to help manufacturers level the playing field against countries like China. Is this an overall agenda that you support but you feel like the red tape needs to be cleared so companies like this can get an exclusion?

MCCASKILL: This company went to have an enforcement of a dumping of Chinese nails and won. And they were doing fine. In fact, they had grown significantly over the last three years, added an additional manufacturing production facility. So the notion that somehow Canada is a threat to us in national security when we have a trade surplus with them on steel. We are damaging important alliances around the globe when, at the end of the day, what we're going after here is cheating by China. Let's bulk up our resources for going after the cheating, making sure that cheaters get caught rather than doing this kind of 2-by-4 action that's going to damage so many downstream jobs in my state and in every state in the country.

GREENE: I want to just ask you one political question if I can. The president won your state by nearly 20 percent in 2016. You are running for re-election - a big target of the Republican Party. You know, you're seen as one of the, quote, "red-state Democrats." Last night, huge upset in a Democratic primary. New York Congressman Joe Crowley lost to a challenger, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28-year-old activist, socialist, worked for Bernie Sanders. Is there enough room in the Democratic Party for you and for her?

MCCASKILL: I believe there is. I mean, there's enough room in our caucus for Joe Manchin and Elizabeth Warren.

GREENE: Senators from West Virginia and Massachusetts, you're saying.

MCCASKILL: Yeah. I'm sure there's many issues that I would agree with this woman about, but I'm sure there's many that this new woman who won last night I would disagree with. I'm a moderate, and I'm not going to apologize for that. I think we need to be focusing on where we can compromise in Washington. The dysfunction will go away if we remember that compromise is what our founders wanted us to do.

GREENE: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

We appreciate your time as always, Senator. Thanks a lot.

MCCASKILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.