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Wisc. Republicans who touted Foxconn factory plan try to blame Democratic governor for debacle

Newly elected Gov. Tony Evers disputes a report he tried to renegotiate GOP predecessor's deal with Taiwanese tech company.
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the Foxconn Technology Group groundbreaking ceremony for its LCD manufacturing campus, in Mount Pleasant
Terry Gou, left, Foxconn founder and chairman, with then-Gov. Scott Walker before a groundbreaking ceremony for FoxConn's LCD manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, on June 28, 2018.Darren Hauck / Reuters file

With the fate of the much-ballyhooed Foxconn project in Wisconsin up in the air, a flurry of finger-pointing erupted Thursday over who is to blame for the Taiwanese technology giant’s sudden decision to rethink its plan to hire 13,000 blue-collar workers for a new factory.

The attempt by Republicans who championed the controversial project to shift the onus to Wisconsin’s newly elected Gov. Tony Evers gained steam after a Japan-based news organization reported that the company got cold feet when the Democrat tried to renegotiate the deal. The Nikkei Asian Review cited three unnamed sources.

The first shot was fired by GOP Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin during an appearance on a Fox Business Network show hosted by Maria Bartiromo.

“Foxconn is under attack in our state because of our new governor,” Duffy declared.

“Wow, so you blame the new governor?” an apparently taken-aback Bartiromo replied.

Indeed, Duffy did. He stressed that Foxconn had not yet abandoned the project in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, that received $4 billion in tax breaks secured by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, and was touted by President Donald Trump as a manufacturing jobmaker.

“So again, this is still up in the air for us but if you are Foxconn, you have to consider the politics of our state and what’s changed in the last, you know, two months,” Duffy said.

Bartiromo questioned Duffy about Foxconn a day after a top company official pulled the rug out from under Trump and Walker by announcing to Reuters that it is rethinking plans for the factory employing 13,000 blue-collar workers. Instead, the company intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers in Wisconsin — and build advanced TV screens elsewhere — because it considers American labor too expensive.

“They haven't necessarily pulled out, but they’ve signaled that they will on the manufacturing side,” Duffy said of Foxconn. “They bought buildings. They have land to build their facilities, but what’s happened in Wisconsin, why is this decision made? Scott Walker lost. The guy that won, Tony Evers in Wisconsin, was bashing this deal from very beginning, so now you have an unfriendly government in Wisconsin who doesn't want Foxconn there.”

Image: Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers addresses a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers during the Governor's State of the State speech at the state Capitol on Jan. 22, 2019, in Madison, Wisconsin.Andy Manis / AP

Two other top Republicans in Wisconsin are also pointing fingers at Evers. In a statement, the GOP leaders of the state Legislature said Foxconn's change of heart comes in an ever-changing technology field, and that it's "not surprising" the company would rethink building a factory under the Evers administration, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The new governor, like many Wisconsin Democrats, did indeed criticize the Foxconn project as a giveaway to a company that has a history of reneging on deals and as a political stunt by Walker to help him get reelected. Walker wound up losing to Evers.

But Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff denied the governor made any attempt to amend the Foxconn deal.

“Claims made today that Gov. Evers has tried to renegotiate the Foxconn contract are false,” she said. “It is unfortunate that Republicans would rather try to make headlines with political finger-pointing than work with the governor to protect Wisconsin taxpayers.”

Mark Hogan, secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., backed Evers.

“I have been involved with the Foxconn project from day one and there never have been any side deals and the contract stands on its own,” he said in a statement provided to reporters. “In addition, there have been no attempts by either the company or the Evers’ or Walker administrations to renegotiate WEDC’s contract.”

“Gov. Evers and his administration have done a very good job of reaching out to company officials and developing a relationship that will protect our taxpayers’ interests, and at the same time give Foxconn the ability to be successful in Wisconsin,” he said.

NBC News reached out to Foxconn for comment but did not hear back.

“Republicans in Wisconsin are desperate to blame this on anybody but themselves,” Matthew Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said.

The campaign has been critical of the Foxconn project.

“People in Wisconsin knew it was the Republicans who pushed this deal,” he said. “And Evers, during both the Democratic primary and general election, was careful to say that Foxconn was a done deal. He was hardly hostile to the company.”

After word got out that Foxconn was rethinking its plans, a Trump official tried to put the best face on an apparently bad situation.

“While it’s encouraging Foxconn will bring 13,000 new jobs and billions of dollars to Wisconsin, we would be disappointed by [any] reductions to the initial investment,” the official said Wednesday.

Walker said on Twitter Wednesday that there are safeguards in place in case Foxconn changed the terms of the deal.