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Trump visits Granite City Thursday, home to reopened U.S. Steel mill

A help wanted sign hangs outside the U.S. Steel Granite City Works facility Thursday, June 28, 2018, in Granite City, Ill. After being shut down for roughly two years, the plant recently restarted one of its two idle blast furnaces with the second scheduled to come back online later this year. | AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is making his first visit to Illinois since becoming president, making a stop in Granite City on Thursday where he is expected to tout the reopening of a U.S. Steel Corp. mill.

The White House announced Sunday night Trump will swing through Granite City, in southern Illinois near St. Louis and Dubuque, Iowa, on Thursday.

The Trump administration has been highlighting U.S. Steel’s Granite City mill as a trade war success story even as the tariffs have sparked concerns in other sectors, with alarms sounded by Illinois farmers whose main crop is soybeans.

The visit will have a potential political impact in the governor’s race. Democrat J.B. Pritzker’s campaign was already asking Sunday night whether Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will be with Trump in Granite City. Rauner continues to walk a tightrope when it comes to Trump.

Rauner, in Washington last week, met with a deputy trade representative to make the case for the Trump administration to carve out some trade war relief for Illinois farmers.

Pritzker campaign manager Anne Caprara said in a Tweet, “And thus will begin my thrice daily question for the next week — will @BruceRauner be appearing with @realDonaldTrump in Illinois?”

Trump’s Illinois visit comes in a week where the White House media messaging is focused on showcasing “Made in America” products, with a representative from Klein Tools, based in suburban Lincolnshire, at the White House on Monday.

On March 8, Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum.

In anticipation of the tariffs on foreign steel, U.S. Steel announced that it would restart two blast furnaces and related steel making in its Granite City works.

“Our Granite City Works facility and employees, as well as the surrounding community, have suffered too long from the unending waves of unfairly traded steel products that have flooded U.S. markets,” said U. S. Steel President and Chief Executive Officer David Burritt said in a March 7 release.

The company said in that release steelmaking ended in December 2015. A “hot strip mill” closed in January 2016 because of what the company said was “global excess steel capacity and unfairly traded imports. The pickle line, cold mill and finishing lines at Granite City Works continued to operate in line with customer demand. The hot strip mill was restarted in February 2017 as the company adjusted its hot strip mill operating configuration to meet customer needs.”

Rauner was with Vice President Mike Pence at a July 13 event at the Westin O’Hare in suburban Rosemont where Pence talked about the U.S. Steel reopening in Granite City.

“And U.S. Steel — U.S. Steel just recently announced that it’s hiring 800 workers to reopen its mill in Granite City. That’s real results for the people of Illinois,” Pence said.

Pence also cited Granite City in a July 19 speech in St. Louis. “You know, three years ago, under the last administration, the steel plant across the river in Granite City shut down — you all remember that — after more than a century of operation. But thanks to the President that you supported, and the Congress that has supported him, that steel mill is reopening and it’s rehiring 800 workers going back to work.”

A spokesman for GOP Attorney General nominee Erica Harold told the Sun-Times she will not be attending the Granite City event. She will be in the Carbondale area on Thursday.