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The wrong messenger for a ‘Buy American, Hire American’ message

Updated
For many years, reporters have received press releases from the White House touting various initiatives with “what people are saying” collections. It’s a straightforward exercise: the White House will collect praise from various corners, package it together, and send it out as proof of a proposal’s merit. The goal is to convince others in media that an administration’s idea has been well received and is generating positive “buzz.”

And while this has been a common tool for Democrats and Republicans alike, Donald Trump’s White House did something yesterday that no one’s ever seen: it sent out a press release touting praise from itself. The headline read: “Senior Administration Officials Praise President Donald J. Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ Executive Order.” It proceeded to quote four members of the president’s team saying nice things about the president’s latest executive order.

Let that sink in for a minute: White House officials alerted the media to the fact that other White House officials praised a new White House policy.

Evidently, Team Trump couldn’t find praise from anyone else, so it was compelled to highlight positive remarks from itself. That’s probably because the president’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order isn’t especially compelling.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday aimed at reducing the number of lower wage foreign hires in the U.S. workforce and bringing job opportunity back to American employees – a key campaign promise.

The signing of this order, Trump told the Kenosha, Wisconsin crowd, will “defend our workers, protect our jobs, and finally put America first.”
That’s pleasant sounding rhetoric, and it’s possible the president actually believes he’s just done something of great significance, but his executive order really just asks various agencies to look for fraud in guest-worker programs, while beginning “an interdepartmental review” of the H-1B visa program.” At some point in the future, various agencies will report back to the White House with some suggested changes.

Groundbreaking, this isn’t.

What stood out as important, though, was just how poor a messenger Trump is for this specific message.

The Washington Post highlighted the “remarkably hypocritical position” the president is taking, in light of the fact that Trump has “sold foreign-made products under his name for years”; Ivanka Trump’s business continues to do the same; Trump “buys foreign products for his hotels and properties”; and he’s “consistently sought to hire foreign workers” for many Trump enterprises.

The president and his allies will likely say this is not hypocrisy, because his executive order is focused on H-1B visas, not workers hired through H-2A and H-2B visas, who tend to be the foreigners Trump hires for his various ventures. That’s true, but it’s not a great argument because it adds fine print to the White House’s message. It’s as if Trump is effectively saying, “American businesses should hire American workers, except in those cases where I find it easier to do the opposite.”

This came up during the campaign, too, when Trump declared, “My administration will follow two very simple rules: buy American and hire American.” Asked about his own hiring of foreign workers employed in the United States, Trump said, “It’s very, very hard to get people.”

In other words, the principle is, “Hire American, unless it’s difficult, in which case, don’t worry about it.”

Donald Trump

The wrong messenger for a 'Buy American, Hire American' message

Updated