Samsung grand opening (copy)

Gov. Henry McMaster (center) helps cut a ceremonial ribbon at Samsung's new appliance plant in Newberry on Jan. 12. Also attending (to McMaster's right) are U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. File/Seanna Adcox/The Post and Courier 

In spite of pleas from several top South Carolina Republicans, President Donald Trump approved tariffs Monday for imported solar energy components and large residential washing machines.

The administration cast the decisions as part of Trump's pledge to put American companies and jobs first. But the move marks a significant setback for Gov. Henry McMaster and other South Carolina officials, who had lobbied the Trump administration against the tariffs due to the possible impact on businesses in the state.

Korean manufacturer Samsung opened a new $380-million home appliance hub in Newberry earlier this month. The production plant promises to bring hundreds of new jobs to the area, but Samsung has warned that the new tariffs on washing machines could threaten their American expansion efforts.

“The governor is obviously disappointed with the decision," said McMaster's spokesman, Brian Symmes. "As he has said time and time again, when it comes to fighting for South Carolina jobs and businesses, he’s going to do it at each and every opportunity – for companies already here and those looking to locate here.“

For large residential washing machines, tariffs will start at up to 50 percent and phase out after three years. American manufacturer Whirlpool initiated the tariff process with complaints that foreign companies were flooding the U.S. with foreign-made washers.

In October testimony before the U.S. International Trade Commission, McMaster called Whirlpool's recommendation "an extreme remedy that will harm South Carolina's budding washing machine manufacturing industry at a critical stage."

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, whose district includes Newberry, also testified against the tariffs and said Monday he is "very disappointed" in the decision.

"This will hurt the American consumer and negatively impact jobs in Newberry," said Norman, R-Rock Hill.

As the first statewide elected official to endorse Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, McMaster has often touted his close relationship with the president.

When Trump flew to Greenville in October to boost McMaster's 2018 campaign, McMaster introduced the president to top Samsung and solar executives. That led Trump to laud the company's television sets and washing machines in his speech.

“The Samsung people, they’re a great company,” Trump said at the fundraiser. “I’ve bought plenty of their products over the years."

Samsung described Trump's decision as "a great loss for American consumers and workers" but thanked South Carolina officials for advocating on the company's behalf.

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The administration is also imposing an immediate tariff of 30 percent on most imported solar modules, with the rate declining before phasing out after four years.

Norman and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, both railed against the solar tariffs. McMaster went to Washington to lobby U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer against the idea last month.

"This is shortsighted and will cost American jobs," Sanford said of Trump's decision.

The U.S. solar industry is split over the issue. Two small subsidiaries of foreign companies that made solar cells in the U.S. favor tariffs, but a larger number of companies that install solar-power systems say their costs will rise and jobs will be lost.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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