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Tale of two factories: hope, anguish ahead of Trump's steel tariff call

GRANITE CITY, Ill. (Reuters) - The blast furnaces and slab casters at United States Steel Corp's Granite City Works have been idle for 18 months, and laid-off workers here are pinning their hopes on President Donald Trump imposing broad new restrictions on imported steel.

Yet just across the Mississippi River, some manufacturers worry that new tariffs and curbs Trump is weighing under a "Section 232" national security review will raise their cost and make it harder to compete with foreign rivals.

The inherent conflict between suppliers and buyers is at the heart of a debate inside the administration that lobbyists and lawmakers say could delay or weaken any protections recommended by the U.S. Commerce Department. The review's findings, originally expected by the end of June, could be unveiled in the coming weeks.

The Cold War-era law that allows the president to restrict imports of goods deemed critical to national defense pits an iconic industry that has been struggling with imports for decades against those that have benefited from China flooding the world steel market with excess production. (Graphic:

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the libertarian Cato Institute, steel mills and steel product factories now employ about 140,000 people, compared to 6.5 million at steel-reliant manufacturers ranging from autos and appliances to machinery.

Hopes and Concerns

In Granite City, where about 1,200 of the U.S. Steel plant's 1,800 workers remain laid off despite the recent restart of some rolling mill operations, there is an air of keen anticipation.

"We're waiting on the 232 to get us back to work," said Chris Bragg, who was laid off in November 2015 when steel imports surged and oil prices cratered, slashing demand for the mill's main product, hot-rolled steel for oil and gas drilling pipe.

The 46-year-old father of three has been working in home construction since then, making less than half of the $55,000 he earned in his last year working on U.S. Steel's basic oxygen furnace, which melts iron and alloys into steel.

There were few dinners...