Top candidate to become Bush's manufacturing czar withdraws

Democrats had criticized CEO of Neb. company for opening factory in China

March 12, 2004|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A Nebraska businessman withdrew from consideration to be the White House's manufacturing czar yesterday after withering attacks by Democrats about his ties to China.

Anthony Raimondo, chairman and chief executive officer of Behlen Manufacturing Co., based in Columbus, Neb., had been expected to be nominated to the new position of assistant secretary for manufacturing.

But the Commerce Department postponed a ceremony yesterday, blaming scheduling conflicts. As the day wore on, it became apparent the delay was linked to the barrage of criticism about Behlen's opening of a factory in China.

Democrats noted that while Behlen was expanding in Beijing, it was laying off workers at home.

The Associated Press quoted an administration official as saying that Raimondo's withdrawal "has nothing to do with the baseless attacks" by Democrats. He instead suggested the problem involved getting Congress to confirm Raimondo.

Democrats opposed Raimondo because "we want somebody focused on jobs here," not in China, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan at a news conference.

Last Labor Day, President Bush promised to appoint a "czar" to develop a plan to shore up U.S. manufacturing. Many labor leaders and Democrats have criticized Bush for taking so long to follow up on that pledge.

"This White House is so bad at jobs, it can't even fill the one it's created," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who appeared with Stabenow.

Since Bush took office in January 2001, the United States has lost about 2.2 million jobs. The losses have been particularly large in the manufacturing sector, which has seen its employee ranks shrink for 43 consecutive months.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has made the Republican response to job losses a central theme of his campaign.

Amid criticism, Bush has launched a publicity offensive on the economy. Yesterday, at a plant in Bay Shore, N.Y., he expressed concern about continuing job losses even in the midst of a recovery. "There's still people looking for work," he said. "There's still people worried about the job they now hold."

While the initial selection of Raimondo may have angered some Democrats, the failure to follow through with his appointment infuriated the National Association of Manufacturers, of which Raimondo is a board member.

NAM spokesman Darren McKinney said Raimondo is "a real, live entrepreneur. ... He's amazing."

McKinney said Raimondo's company, which makes livestock equipment, grain silos and metal buildings, opened a factory in China because it has customers there, not because it wants to take away jobs from Americans. "If you want to sell in China, you have to produce in China," he said.

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