Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton said she'd fight to save America's troubled steel industry while touring Munster Steel in Hammond, one of two Indiana campaign stops she made Tuesday in anticipation of Indiana's May 3 primary election.
"Steel is crucial to our manufacturing base, crucial to our national security, and I will not let this vital industry disappear," Clinton said.
"I'm going to make the steel industry's survival one of my top priorities."
Clinton said she would stand up to China, which she said continued to flood the world market with steel even though demand there has slowed. She said she would appoint a trade prosecutor who would answer directly to the president and who could initiate trade cases against steel dumping without waiting on steelmakers or unions to complain.
"China and other countries have been dumping artificially cheap steel into our markets to gain an unfair advantage," Clinton said. "I really appreciate the fact that Munster Steel buys domestic steel."
Lukas Mitcheltree, a Crown Point resident who's worked for Munster Steel for two and a half years, said he was surprised a presidential candidate would visit a company that only employs around 30 workers but liked what she had to say, particularly about the effects of steel imports.
"It affects me," he said. "People have been laid off."
China is widely blamed for the global import crisis after exporting a record 112 million tons of steel last year, flooding the world market and depressing prices. It produced a record 70.7 million tons of steel last month.
"Why is China doing this? Demand in their own country has slowed down, but they want to keep their steel mills going, because they want to keep people employed while they try to figure out what to do with their economy," Clinton said.
"Well, that's their problem. They shouldn't try to dump it onto us. They're trying to solve their domestic problems on the back of American workers. It's illegal, pure and simple."
Clinton made her remarks at Munster Steel, a third-generation family-owned company that fabricates structural steel for buildings and bridges.
"You can see people, including probably some in this plant, who are working the same jobs as their parents, but for less pay and fewer benefits," she said. "They're doing everything right. Maybe they can't even find a job in their chosen profession. It's got to be hard to be optimistic about the future. It's really clear we're giving too many Americans, particularly working Americans, a really raw deal."
She directed jabs at Republicans Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, whom she accused of being short on specifics.
"It's important in this campaign that people not just give speeches and get everybody riled up," she said. "It's important we ask what they're going to do and how they're going to do it. Give me the specifics. Don't just give me the rhetoric, and the demagoguery. That's why I'm going to be as specific as possible. I'm just bewildered when I hear the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump say wages are too high."
She bashed Cruz's proposal for a national right-to-work law, eliciting cheers from union members who remain upset over Indiana's right-to-work law, which allows workers to opt out of paying union dues at unionized workplaces.
"Right-to-work is wrong for workers, and it's wrong for America," Clinton said.
She accused Indiana leaders of waging a "relentless assault on workers' rights, including by repealing the common construction wage for trade unions."
Indiana Republicans fired back, saying Clinton wanted to put the state's coal industry out of business and that she would say anything to get votes.
"The Clinton Machine is on the warpath against Republicans," Republican Party Chairman Jeff Cardwell said. "Her campaign is desperate to hide her flaws and make her desirable to Hoosiers."
Union members applauded Clinton when she said Indiana lawmakers ignored "economics 101" when they got rid of prevailing construction wages for publicly financed projects. She said workers deserved to be paid well for their work, and that the nation's economy depended on it.
"We have a 70 percent consumption economy," she said. "If we don't pay people, we don't grow the economy. That's not good for families, that's not good for businesses, that's not good for Indiana, and it's not good for America... That's why I've been a strong supporter of the prevailing wage and ensuring the people who build our country get paid what they deserve for it."