WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump tested the limits of his presidential authority and political muscle as he threatened Tuesday to cut off all federal subsidies to General Motors because of its planned massive cutbacks in the U.S.
Trump unloaded on Twitter a day after GM announced it would shutter five plants and slash 14,000 jobs in North America. The cutbacks include closing the Lordstown assembly plant in Trumbull County with the loss of about 1,600 hourly and salaried jobs.
Many of the job cuts would affect the Midwest, the politically crucial region where the president promised a manufacturing rebirth. It was the latest example of the president's willingness to attempt to meddle in the affairs of private companies and to threaten the use of government power to try to force their business decisions.
"Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra, for closing plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland" while sparing plants in Mexico and China, Trump tweeted, adding: "The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get!"
Trump's tweets followed a short time after National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said the White House's reaction to the automaker's announcement was "a tremendous amount of disappointment, maybe even spilling over into anger." Kudlow, who met with Barra on Monday, said Trump felt betrayed by GM.
"Look, we made this deal, we've worked with you along the way, we've done other things with mileage standards, for example, and other related regulations," Kudlow said, referencing the recently negotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. "We've done this to help you and I think his disappointment is, it seems like that they kind of turned his back on him."
The White House rebuke appears to fly in the face of long-held Republican opposition to picking winners and losers in the marketplace. A day earlier, Trump issued a vague threat to GM warning it to preserve the Lordstown plant.
"That's Ohio, and you better get back in there soon," he said.
It's not clear precisely what action against GM might be taken, or when, and there are questions about whether the president has the authority to act without congressional approval.
Buyers of electric vehicles made by GM and other automakers get federal tax credits of up to $7,500, helping to reduce the price as an incentive to get more of the zero-emissions vehicles on the road. But GM is on the cusp of reaching its subsidy limit.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she did not have any additional information on the president's threat.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, GM tried to appease the Trump administration while at the same time justifying the decisions it announced Monday. "We appreciate the actions this administration has taken on behalf of industry to improve the overall competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing," the statement said.
Many of the workers who will lose jobs if the plants close could transfer to another GM factory where production is being increased, spokesman Patrick Morrissey said. For instance, GM plans to add hundreds of workers at its pickup truck assembly plant in Flint, Mich., Morrissey said. Workers also will be added at an SUV factory in Arlington, Texas.
But those expansions aren't enough to accommodate all of the roughly 3,300 U.S. factory workers who could lose their jobs.