President Biden on Tuesday joined the ongoing labor strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW) in Michigan — sporting a ball cap and a bullhorn — marking a first-of-its kind moment for a sitting president that shows the White House embarking on offense against his likely 2024 opponent, former President Trump.
Biden and Trump’s campaigns have been in a tit-for-tat for weeks over supporting autoworkers. Trump spent much of Tuesday flogging Biden’s trip, while the Biden campaign insisted that Trump was merely backing the workers in order to benefit politically.
The attention is warranted –– Michigan, along with Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, is a key state that could help determine who next takes the White House. It’s also one that Democrats blew in 2016, when Hillary Clinton notoriously left it off her travel list in the crucial final days of that year’s election.
Biden, his White House and his campaign, however, do not seem to be taking the Great Lakes state for granted.
“You deserve a hell of a lot more than what you’re getting paid now,” Biden emphatically told cheering union workers sporting red shirts and signs, alongside UAW President Shawn Fain.
The UAW has notably not yet endorsed Biden in 2024, saying in May that it has concerns over the White House’s focus on EVs — a policy Trump repeatedly hit Biden over as the reason the workers went on strike in the first place.
The former president said Tuesday that Biden’s “draconian and indefensible Electric Vehicle mandate will annihilate the U.S. auto industry and cost countless thousands of autoworkers their jobs.”
“This is nothing more than a PR stunt from Crooked Joe Biden to distract and gaslight the American people from his disastrous Bidenomics policies that have led to so much economic misery across the country,” Trump later said in a statement shortly after Biden’s appearance.
Trump plans to give a speech while in Michigan on Wednesday — the same day as the second GOP presidential primary debate — at Drake Enterprises, a nonunion manufacturer in Clinton Township.
The UAW said, however, that it also wouldn’t endorse Trump, and Fain went so far earlier this month as to say that Trump is “not a person I want as my president.”
Holding on to Michigan is essential for Biden, who touts his policies around U.S. manufacturing, job creation, improving the U.S. economy for the middle class, and supporting big labor. But some union workers still resonate with Trump’s anti-free trade message and other rhetoric, which led him to win states such as Ohio in 2020 and 2016.
A source close to the Biden campaign told The Hill that Team Biden “feels confident” about its prospects in the state after Democrats flipped both chambers of the Michigan Legislature in the 2022 midterms.
“Michigan is a state where the president is taking nothing for granted and is already investing in [an] aggressive paid media campaign in the state, as well as investing in [the] state party. [The] campaign feels confident that its message and agenda are popular and will build off momentum from Michigan Dems’ 2022 historic wins,” the source said.
Union households had somewhat shifted blue-to-red in 2016, but in 2020, Biden doubled union household support compared to the support Clinton received, according to Bloomberg Law.
Trump winning back key union-strong swing states such as Michigan and Wisconsin that he lost to Biden in 2020 — despite winning those states against Clinton in 2016 — is essential to his taking the White House in 2024.
So far, Biden and Trump are running in a nearly dead heat in national polls that pit them against each other in a hypothetical rematch next November.
When it comes to unions, though, Biden and Clinton’s backgrounds are different. Biden has claimed throughout his presidency that he is the most pro-union president in U.S. history, something he has leaned heavily into not just in Michigan but in other stops throughout the country during his presidency.
He’ll need the union vote and any other key voting bloc to muster enough votes should he and Trump run against each other again.
Biden’s visit to the picket line Tuesday wasn’t the first time he has sided with workers against big corporations since taking office. Biden supported workers in April 2022, when he issued a warning to tech giant Amazon days after workers at one of its New York City sites voted to be represented by a union.
On Tuesday, he rallied workers who cheered him on: “Stick with it, because you deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits,” he said. “Let’s get back what we lost, OK?”