Obama's top adviser to visit struggling Iron Range

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President Obama is sending his top adviser to Minnesota's Iron Range for an up-close look at the economic problems facing the region due to a slump in steel prices.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office announced the visit Tuesday afternoon, saying Obama's chief of staff Denis McDonough will travel to the Iron Range on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

McDonough plans to meet with community leaders, mining executives and workers at Iron Range Community and Technical College in Virginia to hear from them how the downturn has affected them.

The Iron Range economy is in a deep slump as the price of steel has fallen; at least seven of Minnesota’s 11 major mining operations have closed or are about to close, and nearly 2,000 miners are out of work. 

Klobuchar, along with Sen. Al Franken, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Gov. Mark Dayton, have asked the president to intervene.

They blame the downturn on a glut of foreign steel in the U.S. caused by the illegal dumping of cheap foreign steel by China, India and other southeast Asian countries.

"Unless constructive action is taken now, miners and steelworkers in Minnesota and across the country will soon face even more layoffs," said Nolan in the news release.

Nolan, in particular, also faults the federal government for not being tough enough to stop the flood of foreign steel entering the U.S.

“The United States has proven itself incapable of enforcing trade agreements, and incapable of stopping illegal dumping of foreign steel once it reaches our shores," Nolan said last month, as he called for a five-year ban on foreign steel imports.

Klobuchar and Franken introduced a bill last monththat would give the federal government the authority to act more quickly to enforce trade laws. Nolan said he will introduce a companion measure in the House.

More details regarding McDonough's visit to Virginia will be announced shortly, according to Klobuchar's office. McDonough, by the way, is a Minnesota native.

State action stalled

On the state level, Gov. Dayton has called for a special legislative session to extend unemployment benefits to roughly 600 steelworkers who will see their benefits run out shortly. The Legislature’s next regular session doesn’t begin until March. 

Republican leaders in the House have so far rejected the governor's request, leaving the issue in limbo for the time being.

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