Trump warns firms as victory tour begins

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to workers at Carrier air conditioning and heating on December 1, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Indianapolis: Donald Trump launched into a post-election victory lap Thursday by visiting a company where he claimed credit for saving American jobs, as he warned other US firms they will face consequences if relocating abroad.

The president-elect, who made guaranteeing jobs for blue-collar American workers a key plank of his campaign, strode triumphantly through an Indiana factory that makes Carrier air conditioners, trumpeting a deal to keep 1,100 manufacturing positions from being shifted to Mexico.

He completes his tour of the Midwest later Thursday with a campaign-style mass rally in Ohio. The events mark Trump’s first major public outings since winning the White House on November 8.

Casting aside interviews for senior cabinet positions yet to be filled, the 70-year-old maverick tycoon flew to Indianapolis where he glad-handed workers on an assembly line before defending his negotiation with the company.

“I think it’s very presidential. And if it’s not presidential, that’s OK because I like doing it,” Trump said.

“But we’re going to have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they’re leaving this country because they’re not going to leave this country.”

During the presidential campaign, the Republican billionaire threatened to slap tariffs on firms that decamped for places like Mexico or Asia where labor costs are cheaper.

It became a refrain of his victorious campaign, during which he repeatedly leaned on Carrier not to ship a planned 2,000 jobs to Mexico.

“Companies are not going to leave the United States any more without consequences. Not going to happen,” Trump said as Greg Hayes, chairman of United Technologies Corporation which owns the Carrier brand, looked on.

“You don’t have to leave anymore. Your taxes will be at the very low end and your unnecessary regulations will be gone,” he said, repeating campaign promises to cut corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 15 percent and curb regulations on industry.

Carrier has announced that it will preserve more than 1,000 jobs and continue to manufacture gas furnaces in Indianapolis. Hundreds of jobs reportedly will still be moved to Mexico.

Under a deal hammered out with the help of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is Indiana’s outgoing governor, the state offered Carrier $7 million in incentives over 10 years, “contingent upon factors including employment, job retention and capital investment,” the company said.

Critics are fearful that workers’ rights may not be adequately protected, or that the deal may embolden other firms to threaten to relocate jobs.

Fierce criticism

“United Technologies took Trump hostage and won,” Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont and prominent Trump critic on the left of American politics, wrote in a stinging op-ed in Thursday’s Washington Post, saying it “endangered” other American jobs.

Trump “has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives.”

The Trump team hailed the agreement as a “big win.” Anthony Scaramucci, an entrepreneur and member of the Trump team’s executive committee, said “the whole purpose” was to slash corporate tax rates to make it more competitive for US companies to allocate capital at home.

“I’m hoping that every CEO in America is getting that beacon signal from the new Trump administration that we’re open for business here in the United States, and we’ve got to get American people back working in American jobs.”

Steven Mnuchin, the multi-millionaire former Goldman Sachs banker who Trump has nominated as Treasury secretary, said he couldn’t remember the last time a president had made such an intervention with an American chief executive.

“I think it’s terrific,” he told reporters Wednesday, saying that he and Wilbur Ross, the billionaire nominated as commerce secretary, would work with Trump to “do the right thing for the American workers.”

The deal is an extraordinary industry intervention by a president-elect.

The White House avoided outright criticism of Trump’s effort, but it did express skepticism about the strategy of keeping jobs on American soil, one company at a time.

“Mr Trump would have to make 804 more announcements just like that to equal the standard of jobs in the manufacturing sector that were created in this country under President Obama’s watch,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Trump has so far peppered top-level administration appointments with billionaires and millionaires, after slamming his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for her Wall Street ties and for amassing millions in between stints in public office.

He has been narrowing his choices for secretaries of state and defense. The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump has decided on retired Marine general James Mattis, 66, to head the Pentagon.

The pick would be a break from tradition and require congressional intervention, as federal law prohibits defense secretaries from having been on active duty in the previous seven years. Mattis retired in 2013.

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