The US president’s comments come as he tries to shore up support in the key state of Pennsylvania.

US President Joe Biden has opposed the proposed sale of a Pittsburgh-based steelmaker to Japan’s largest steelmaker, stressing the need for “strong American steel companies, powered by American steelworkers.”

Biden’s opposition to Nippon Steel’s takeover of US Steel comes as the Democrat looks to shore up support among unions and workers in the key swing state of Pennsylvania ahead of November’s presidential election.

Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020 by fewer than 100,000 votes, after former President Donald Trump in 2016 became the first Republican to hold the state since 1988.

Trump said earlier this year that he would block the deal, describing the proposed takeover of the American brand as “a terrible thing”.

“I told our steelworkers that I stand with them, and I meant it,” Biden said in a statement Thursday.

“US Steel has been an iconic American steel company for more than a century, and it is critical that it remains a domestically owned and operated American steel company.”

Shares of US Steel fell 6.4 percent after Biden’s comments, having slumped the previous day on news that the president would voice his opposition to the deal.

US Steel, the second-largest steelmaker in the US, announced in December that it had agreed to be bought by Nippon Steel in a takeover valued at $14.1 billion.

The announcement provoked mixed reactions in the US, with some welcoming the prospect of an injection of new capital and technology, while others decried the sale of an iconic American brand.

The proposed acquisition is currently under review by the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is expected to make decisions without taking political considerations into account.

While Biden did not explicitly say Thursday he would block the deal, he does have power over CFIUS since the Treasury Secretary, who heads the committee, serves at the president’s pleasure.

United Steelworkers International, the largest industrial union in the US, welcomed Biden’s comments.

“Allowing one of our nation’s largest steel producers to be purchased by a foreign-owned company leaves us vulnerable when it comes to meeting both our defense and critical infrastructure needs,” USW International President David McCall said in a statement .

“The President’s statements should end the debate: US Steel must remain ‘domestically owned and operated’.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized “efforts to politicize the CFIUS review process.”

“This review will certainly support the transaction given Japan’s status as one of America’s most important and trusted allies,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President John Murphy said in a statement.

“Japanese investments in the U.S. support nearly a million American jobs, and officials must be careful not to send a chilling message to international companies that U.S. policies could jeopardize their job-creating investments in the U.S. For these reasons, it is imperative that the CFIUS review proceed; and if, as expected, no national security concerns are raised, the sale should go ahead.”

Biden’s intervention threatens to upset Tokyo, one of Washington’s closest allies in Asia, as his administration looks to strengthen joint efforts to counter China.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will visit the White House on April 10 for talks expected to focus heavily on strengthening the US-Japan alliance in light of Beijing’s growing assertiveness.

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