Multiple media outlets and figures uncritically reported on President Donald Trump’s planned executive order promoting policies that encourage the federal government to “buy American” and “hire American” wherever possible. These outlets and figures did not note that the executive order only calls for a review of current policy, and does not meaningfully change it, and some other outlets buried those crucial details in their reporting.
Trump Will Sign “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order
Wash. Post: Trump Will Sign Executive Order Focusing On H-1B Visas. The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump planned to sign a “Buy American, Hire American” executive order that would aim to “lay the foundation for overhauling programs that allow foreign workers into the United States” by focusing on the H-1B visa program. The article noted that “it’s unclear how much the administration can actually do without Congress’s approval, and that “the executive order will not make any immediate changes” to any visa programs. From the April 17 article:
President Trump spent much of the campaign vowing to reduce competition for American workers.
On Tuesday, he will sign an executive order in pursuit of that goal — although it’s unclear how much the administration can actually do without Congress’s approval.
Here are the two main objectives of the executive order, which Trump will sign in the afternoon as part of a trip to Kenosha, Wis.
The first goal is to lay the foundation for overhauling programs that allow foreign workers into the United States. In their current form, Trump sees these programs — including the H-1B visa program used by technology companies — as sources of cheap labor that drive down wages and limit opportunities for U.S. workers.
The executive order will not make any immediate changes to these programs. Instead, it will direct the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to conduct a wholesale review of current policy and recommend improvements.
The second goal is to ensure American companies are given priority when the federal government awards contracts.
This will involve another policy review, this time by the Department of Commerce. Officials will study procurement policies and trade agreements to see how they affect U.S. companies’ ability to compete for government contracts, with a view toward eventually leveling the playing field. [The Washington Post, 4/17/17]
Some Media Figures Accurately Reported On What Little The Order Would Actually Do
MSNBC: “Buy American, Hire American” Has “No Real Directive” In It And “Wouldn’t Go Into Effect Right Away.” MSNBC’s Chris Jansing said that Trump’s planned executive order had “no real teeth” and “no deep directive” with regard to making the U.S. government or American companies hire American citizens over non-citizens. Jansing also reported that the other part of the executive order “wouldn’t go into effect right away” because it is too late to halt H-1B visas for 2017, and that the executive order conveniently “doesn’t affect other worker visa programs like H-2B,” which “covers seasonal workers, the kind that work in places like Mar-a-Lago.” From the April 18 edition of MSNBC Live:
CHRIS JANSING: The name of this executive order that he’s going to be signed, “buy American, hire American,” the “hire” part directing agencies -- mostly cabinet members have discretion in this, to buy things -- give priority to things that are made in America, but there’s no real teeth in that area, no deep directive. Maybe the bigger, more controversial part is the “hire American,” which deals with the H-1B visa program. He was very critical of it on the campaign trail. He said that this, which was designed to bring high-tech workers in to the United States, that were needed by high-tech companies, in fact was just an excuse to bring in lower-paying workers and it denied Americans jobs, something that these CEOs have in fact not only denied, but they say that this will hurt them. The problem is, in part, that first of all that program is already in process for this year so it wouldn’t go into effect right away. The second part of it is, Hallie, that it doesn’t affect other worker visa programs like H2B; that particular program covers seasonal workers, the kind that work in places like Mar-a-Lago, the president’s -- as he calls it -- Winter White House down in Florida. [MSNBC, MSNBC Live, 4/18/17]
MSNBC’s Josh Barro: “All [The Executive Order] Does Is Generate A Report.” MSNBC contributor Josh Barro noted that all the executive order does is direct “the commerce secretary to produce a report” with suggested changes to the H-1B visa program, which would still need congressional approval to be implemented. Barro added that Trump “slap[ped] the executive order label on it” so that it became “a news story” without actually changing policy. From the April 18 edition of MSNBC Live:
JOSH BARRO: I hate calling these executive orders, because what this does is it directs the commerce secretary to produce a report about what they can do. The changes that Trump wants to make will require changes to laws. All this report says is find a better way to enforce what you're doing. It doesn't give them specifics, says -- in one case, send your report by Thanksgiving about what we can do on this. If the story was just Trump is asking his commerce secretary to figure out what we can do this, that wouldn't be a news story. They slap the executive order label on it, suddenly it becomes a news story because Donald Trump is doing something about employing Americans. But this order, all it does is generate a report. [MSNBC, MSNBC Live, 4/18/17]
On CNN, PBS's John Yang Highlights How Trump's Executive Actions Are Designed To Paper Over Failed Legislative Agenda. On the April 18 edition of CNN’s Inside Politics, PBS reporter John Yang argued that Trump’s executive order was fundamentally a “symbolic action” that “could be accomplished with a phone call to the commerce secretary.” Host John King added that the order “is essentially another study,” and “not what Donald Trump the candidate promised”:
JOHN YANG: And you see that partly in today, what they're doing today with the executive order, trying to turn to things blue collar workers -- would appeal to blue collar workers. But if you scratch the surface of this executive order and a lot of others, there's not much there there. Today's executive order on “Buy American” is something that could be accomplished with a phone call to the commerce secretary. But they've chosen this sort of symbolic action of signing an executive order because it looks like something's happening. It looks like action is being taken.
JOHN KING (HOST): It's essentially another study. Look around the government. Find out why agencies sometimes use loopholes to buy other products. Report back to the commerce secretary. As you know, that's -- again, that's how government works sometimes, but it is not what Donald Trump the candidate promised when he said, “I'm going to go to Washington and I'm going to change it.” [CNN, Inside Politics, 4/18/17]
Trump Apologists Uncritically Report On Executive Order
Fox & Friends: Executive Order Is Trump Showing That “We’ve Got To Do Something About Buying From American Manufacturers.” Fox co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the executive order would show “we've got to do something about buying from American manufacturers and hiring” by “target[ing] ... the H-1B visa program.”Co-host Ainsley Earhardt added that Trump was “tired of” the “thousands of immigrants that come in” and are “taking those low-paying jobs” that American college graduates should have instead. From the April 18 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): So he’s going to Kenosha in Wisconsin, a state he won, to hammer home the idea we've got to do something about buying from American manufacturers and hiring. And in particular what he’s going to target is the H-1B visa program, which allows about 85,000 foreign nationals into the country. The IT community loves it because they're able to get skilled labor into their factories and their facilities every year.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): The president said what's happening is those thousands of immigrants that come in, they’re taking these low-paying jobs, but these are jobs that young American children that are graduating from college, they could get, but they're not available because people from other countries that are here on this program, they're taking those jobs. And he’s tired of it.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Right. And the pushback has been -- and I remember reading in Steve Jobs’ book, he says, “You understand, we cannot bring manufacturing here -- back because we don't have enough engineers.” That's why we need to import those engineers and find these college kids that come here from other countries. We got to induce them to stay -- like number one draft picks. If they're the geniuses and we’re training them, why are we sending them back to their own country? Also think it’s significant that he’s going to Wisconsin.
KILMEADE: Because a lot of people think, “Oh, did he forget how he converted all those red states blue, boy he’s going after Syria and talking about North Korea and going after Mosul?” And he’s saying, “No, I didn't. In fact, I only won by 23,000 votes in Wisconsin, and I’m going back there to tell you I haven’t forgotten. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/17]
Fox Business’ Stuart Varney: Trump’s Executive Order Will “Get Something Done” Since “Congress Isn’t Getting Anything Done.” Fox Business host Stuart Varney said the executive order was Trump having “to turn to executive orders to get something done” because “Congress isn’t getting anything done.” From the April 18 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co.:
STUART VARNEY (HOST): Today [Trump] travels to Wisconsin and will sign a “buy American, hire American” executive order. He’s telling federal agencies, “Use American products and review the H-1B foreign worker visa program.” So again, President Trump has to turn to executive orders to get something done. Congress isn’t getting anything done. No Obamacare reform, no tax cut until at least the fall. What’s a president to do? Well, he picks up the pen with an executive order. Nobody’s happy about this. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 4/18/17]
Fox’s Byron York: Trump’s Wisconsin Visit And Executive Order “Shows Trump Remembering Why He Was Elected.” Fox contributor Byron York on the April 18 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom told co-host Bill Hemmer that the executive order, along with Trump’s visit to Wisconsin, “shows Trump remembering why he was elected, which is to bring more jobs at higher wages to American workers.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 4/18/17]
Fox’s John Roberts: Trump “Will Do More To Try To Level The Playing Field When It Comes To Hiring American And Buy American.” Fox’s chief political correspondent John Roberts reported that Trump’s executive order was an example of him “do[ing] more to try to level the playing field when it comes to hiring American and buy American.” Roberts added that the executive order will ensure that federal agencies will “maximize the use of federal goods and materials in federal contracts,” and that the executive order will “review trade agreements” to make sure they “can be renegotiated” if Trump thinks they are “not fair” to the U.S. From the April 18 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
JOHN ROBERTS: The president will do more to try to level the playing field when it comes to hiring American and buy American. One of the things he’s going to do is order a review of the H-1B visa program to ensure that only the highest skilled workers get access to H-1B visas. The president believes that the H-1B visa program is being abused to bring in lower-wage workers, as opposed to highly-skilled workers. The executive order will also call for a review of “buy American” policies at federal agencies to maximize the use of federal goods and materials in federal contracts. It’ll also review trade agreement to make sure that if the playing field is not fair, in terms of benefits, to American industries and workers, that those trade deals, Shannon, can be renegotiated. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 4/18/17]
Other Outlets Bury Information Showing The Limited Impact Of Executive Order
NY Times: Trump’s Order Is “Aimed At Making It Harder” For Employers “To Recruit Low-Wage Workers From Foreign Countries And Undercut Americans.” The New York Times reported in an April 18 article that Trump’s executive order was intended to protect job-seeking Americans from employers who “recruit low-wage workers from foreign countries,” noting that “Mr. Trump pledged to end the [H-1B visa] program” during the campaign. Only in the fifth paragraph does the Times acknowledge that the order “falls far short of ending that program.” The article also uncritically reports that the order requires federal agencies “to strictly enforce ‘Buy American’ rules,” even though the order only asks cabinet agencies to “conduct top-to-bottom assessments” of when, from where, and how often they purchase American-made goods. The Times’ glowing write-up of Trump’s executive order actually failed to mention that it is expressly not meant to address the H-2B visa program, which Trump’s own companies use to recruit low-wage seasonal workers, instead focusing on immigrants in high-tech fields. [The New York Times, 4/18/17; The White House, 4/17/17]
USA Today: “Trump Will Sign A Double-Barreled Executive Order,” But “The Order Will Largely Call On Cabinet Secretaries” To Do The Actual Work. An April 17 USA Today article reported Trump would issue “a double-barrelled executive order … that will clamp down on guest worker visas and require agencies to buy more goods and services from U.S. companies.” The article did not note until later that “like many of his previous executive orders, the order will largely call on cabinet secretaries to fill in the details.” It added that the order will additionally “stop short of the one- to two-year moratorium” on foreign work visas Trump promised on the campaign trail and also “comes too late to have a direct effect on this year's visa season.” [USA Today, 4/17/17]
CNN.com: “Trump To Push ‘Buy American, Hire American,’” But The Order “Does Not Take Direct Action To Fundamentally Change” Anything. CNN.com reported in an April 17 article that Trump “will sign an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ rhetoric of his campaign” in order to “bolster protections for certain American-made goods,” and would “call for a review of the H-1B visa program” with the intention of “reforming” it. Not until the fifth paragraph does the article accurately note that the executive order “does not take direct action to fundamentally change either portion [of U.S. law], instead initiating a series of reviews and assessments and calling on federal departments to begin proposing reforms.” [CNN.com, 4/17/17]
NPR: “Trump Is Trying To Put More Muscle” Behind “Buy American And Hire American.” NPR’s Scott Horsley in an April 17 article characterized Trump’s executive order as him “trying to put more muscle” behind “stricter enforcement of laws requiring the federal government to buy American-made products.” The article only noted towards the bottom that “some of the changes the White House wants would require cooperation from lawmakers.” [NPR, 4/17/17]
Wash. Post Wonkblog: “Trump Prepares To Deliver On A Key Campaign Pledge.” The Washington Post’s Wonkblog published an article alleging that Trump’s executive order meant he was “deliver[ing] on a key campaign pledge” after “a series of reversals” on policies he campaigned on by “mak[ing] it harder for tech companies to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor” and “strengthen[ing] rules barring foreign contractors from bidding on government projects.” Wonkblog quoted “industry experts” to back Trump up, claiming the order “was a good first step to protecting the U.S. defense industrial base” despite acknowleding in a previous paragraph that it is “not immediately clear how much the administration could accomplish” without actual legislation. [The Washington Post, 4/17/17]