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President Biden hosts Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a state visit

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden will welcome Japan's Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, to the White House today for a coveted state visit.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Beyond the 21-gun salute and black-tie dinner, the leaders are talking about how to deepen their cooperation on global security issues, including on China. But those shared interests could be overshadowed by a crack in the economic relationship. We're talking about a takeover bid for the iconic company U.S. Steel.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is in Studio 31 this morning. Franco, it's not a state dinner, but it's good to have you at our table.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: (Laughter) Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Sorry you didn't bring the black tie, but I didn't either. OK. So there's this Japanese company, Nippon Steel, that wants to buy U.S. Steel. President Biden has raised concerns about this. How does this make the visit awkward?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, U.S. Steel late last year reached a nearly $15 billion deal with Nippon Steel, but there are a lot of forces trying to block the sale - you know, the United Steelworkers union, which represents thousands of U.S. steelworkers across the country, and several influential lawmakers. Former President Donald Trump has said he'd block it if he were back in office. And Biden, who is counting on the union vote, announced last month that he opposes the deal, too. Now, Biden's intervention has caused some waves in diplomatic and trade circles, because this is a private deal from a company in a country that is a very close ally to the United States.

INSKEEP: Although it is just classic American Midwestern politics - keep your hands off my steel. You can just feel the echoes of this from many decades past. Is this actually going to be a subject at the summit?

ORDOÑEZ: I think White House officials are insisting that they won't discuss it in their meetings, but reporters are very likely to raise it in the press conference. This is a very sensitive issue. As you can hear even from Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, when he was pressed about it yesterday during the briefing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: You guys all know Joe Biden. You've seen Joe Biden. He's been very clear that he's going to stand up for American workers. He's going to defend their interests. He's also been very clear that he is going to make sure that the U.S.-Japan alliance is the strongest it's ever been. He's going to accomplish both of those things.

INSKEEP: Sullivan says this is what you should expect of Joe Biden. Is it normal that he would be doing this?

ORDOÑEZ: It's not normal. I mean - and there has been a lot of pushback from groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who said this could discourage foreign investment. Scott Lincicome, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute - he told me that this contradicts the idea that the U.S. is open for business.

SCOTT LINCICOME: That really sends a bad signal, not just to Japan but to the world, that economics is not driving the bus.

ORDOÑEZ: And he says what is driving the bus is politics. The reality is that U.S. Steel has been around for more than a hundred years. It's based in a critical swing state, Pennsylvania. And Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio - an important ally of Biden - he's opposed this, and he's in a very tight race of his own this fall.

INSKEEP: OK. So if this is not part of the official agenda of this state visit, what is?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Officials told us there is a long list of deliverables - more than 70. You know, that's a lot. So they're trying to show that the relationship is much bigger than just one deal. There are defense projects, space cooperation, AI research with major U.S. companies. You know, they're going to focus on their work countering China in the Indo-Pacific. And of course, they'll have the black-tie dinner, where the leaders will be entertained by singer Paul Simon.

INSKEEP: "Hearts And Bones." We'll try not to think too much. Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSE COOK'S "JALEO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Franco Ordoñez
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.