President Joe Biden took on his predecessor – and likely future election opponent – during a visit to Illinois Thursday as he aims to gin up momentum for his reelection effort.
In remarks to a crowd of United Auto Workers members, Biden touted his historic support for organized labor, including his visit to a UAW picket line in September, contrasting his record with former President Donald Trump.
The president offered a scathing criticism of Trump, who, a day after Biden’s visit to the picket line, held a rally at a non-union shop in Michigan – a decision that drew the ire of UAW President Shawn Fain.
“Here’s the difference: When you were in the middle of a fight, I stood and others stood with you, shoulder-to-shoulder on that picket line,” Biden said Thursday. “My predecessor went to a non-union shop and attacked you. I hope you guys have a memory. Where I come from, it matters.”
The event comes as Biden attempts to lock down an endorsement from the powerful UAW. While the president is firmly supported by top union leaders and quickly received endorsements from some of the biggest unions upon announcing his reelection run, the UAW – which was in a standoff with the Big Three automakers until historic deals were recently reached – has yet to endorse him in his 2024 run.
The UAW, which backed Biden in 2020, has said their members still need to see more from the president before lending him their support. The UAW has more than 400,000 members.
Biden slammed Trump for his record on unions and electric vehicles, telling the audience, “When my predecessor was in office, six factories closed across the country, tens of thousands of auto jobs were lost nationwide, and on top of that, he was willing to cede the future of electric vehicles to China.”
“He said if America invested in electric vehicles, it would drive down wages, it would destroy jobs, it would spell the end of the American automobile industry. Well, like almost everything else he said, he was wrong. You have proved him wrong,” he said.
Courting the UAW
Biden has long been a proponent of organized labor, describing himself as the most “pro-union” president ever and it’s a theme that features heavily in his reelection effort as the White House works to extol the benefits of Bidenomics and woo unions that have yet to endorse him.
The president met with Fain, who also spoke ahead of Biden at the event, which was held to mark the planned reopening of one of the plants closed by Stellantis, an auto company that had built Jeeps there until it was closed at the end of February. The company agreed to reopen the plant following UAW negotiations to settle its strike.
The president called the UAW’s agreements with the Big Three automakers “game changers – not only for UAW workers, but for all workers in America.”
“I want to thank you for your commitment to solidarity, for exercising your right to bargain collectively. You made this happen, and by the way, it’s a bigger thing, I think even y’all realize,” Biden said. “You’ve changed, you’re changing the face of the country economically.”
In September, Biden made history as the first sitting president in modern history to join workers on a picket line when he visited striking autoworkers in Wayne County, Michigan. At the time, he told UAW members that they deserved a “significant raise.”
Though Fain has been critical of Biden – especially for his administration’s financial support of a transition by the auto industry from traditional gasoline powered cars to electric vehicles, which the UAW sees as a threat to its members’ jobs – he offered praise for the president’s decision to break norms by joining the strike. Biden offered effusive praise for the UAW president, telling Fain, “You’ve done a hell of a job,” and calling him “a leader with a backbone like a ramrod.”
“(Biden’s) rhetoric of being a pro-union president is being challenged and successfully pushed by Shawn Fain,” said Faiz Shakir, the executive director of More Perfect Union, which liaised between the UAW and the White House, adding that Fain “politically compelled” the president and his administration to take actions to earn the union’s support.
Fain has also been openly critical of Trump, especially after the former president opted to hold an event at a non-union manufacturing facility in Michigan just one day after Biden’s visit to the picket line.
“I see no point in meeting with [Trump] because I don’t think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for. He’s the billionaire class and that’s what’s wrong with our country,” Fain said at the time.
When asked by reporters on Thursday about a potential endorsement, he said, “They’re going to be fine.”
Illinois dealing with migration
Illinois is also becoming a key spot for another thorny issue for the president – border security – as concerns over mass migration have spilled into interior cities with an influx of new arrivals.
The economy is set to be a prominent issue heading into next year’s election, with 66% of registered voters saying it will be extremely important to their vote in 2024, according to the latest CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Around half say immigration is an important issue.
The administration is trying to tackle both – fanning out across the country to sell the economic agenda and working behind the scenes to quell concerns among allies, including city and state officials in Illinois, over crossings at the US-Mexico border.
In recent months, the political pressure over the migrant crisis drew in Gov. JB Pritzker, a major political ally of the president who has been one of the most active boosters of Biden’s reelection campaign.
It’s also bubbled up in Chicago, which will host next year’s Democratic convention – an event that people involved already believe will make the city a magnet for even more migrants to be sent by Republican governors.
Senior White House officials have been in regular discussion with Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and their staff about the growing number of migrants arriving to the state, many of whom have been sent via buses by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The meetings are often focused on what officials are learning about the migrant population and their needs, according to a senior administration official. The administration has mobilized federal agencies to help with housing and education.
“We’re acutely aware that while we’re all trying to solve a problem. Gov. Abbott wants to weaponize a problem,” the senior administration official said.
On Thursday, the administration – in collaboration with Illinois and Chicago – will launch a one-stop-shop work authorization clinic to help asylum seekers obtain work permits. Officials hope that it will help migrants get on their feet and obtain jobs as well as decompress the shelter system.
“We don’t want to waste any time. That period of time between finishing (an asylum) application and four weeks from now that you’ll get work authorization, there’s productive things a person can be doing during that period,” the senior administration official told CNN.
A White House spokesperson maintained that the administration is committed to supporting local jurisdictions receiving migrants and cited Biden’s supplemental funding request submitted to Congress that includes grant funding for communities.
Last fiscal year, the administration provided the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois with more than $46 million in grant funding to help with migrant arrivals, the spokesperson added.
Pritzker, meanwhile, remains a top ally for the White House. Biden and the campaign tapped Pritzker, among other high-profile surrogates, to highlight the contrast between the president and Republicans around the Wednesday GOP debate.