Biden touts jobs plan, hits Trump for ‘life and death betrayal’ on COVID-19

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took aim during a Wednesday speech in Warren at President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and promises he made to create manufacturing jobs.

Speaking in the parking lot of the United Auto Workers Region 1 headquarters, Biden referenced claims in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward. The book says Trump labeled the virus “deadly” in February, a month before Michigan reported its first cases, and later told Woodward he minimized the danger the virus presented, according to the Associated Press.

“It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” Biden said during the 28-minute speech.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event on manufacturing and buying American-made products at UAW Region 1 headquarters in Warren, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

The former vice president also said getting a good job in 2020 should be an “expectation” and vowed to be the “most friendly” president to unions in “the history of the United States of America.” At multiple points, he referenced a General Motors Co. transmission plant in Warren that closed in 2019.

“I don’t expect the defeatist view that the forces of automation and globalization mean we can’t keep good-paying union jobs here in America and create more of them,” Biden said.

In 2018, GM proposed closing four U.S. plants to save billions of dollars amid sagging demand for cars. Trump criticized the proposal and said at the time he spoke to GM CEO Mary Barra about it.

“I spoke with her when I heard they were closing and I said, you know, this country has done a lot for General Motors,” Trump said, referring to the federal bailout of the Detroit automaker in 2008-2009. 

The Warren plant as well as facilities in Lordstown, Ohio, and Baltimore were closed under a 2019 UAW contract approved by the membership that included raises and bonuses that outpaced inflation, the elimination of the $12,000 cap on profit-sharing payouts and a record $11,000 ratification bonus. But GM revived the Warren facility this year during the pandemic so it now makes COVID-19 personal protection equipment such as masks.

Biden’s speech came after he unveiled a plan Wednesday morning that would penalize companies that move jobs out of the country and reward ones that invest inside its borders.

Michigan had lost auto manufacturing jobs under Trump even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Biden said.  During a Grand Rapids rally before the November 2016 election, Trump said he would bring back the automobile industry in Michigan “bigger and better and stronger than ever before.”

“He’s hoping we just have poor memories. He doesn’t give us much credit,” Biden added.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow were in attendance for the speech as well as a slew of UAW officials. The former vice president’s campaign released its new proposals hours before the stop in Macomb County, a swing county that President Donald Trump won four years ago after former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won it two times before.

The visit is Biden’s first to Michigan since becoming the Democratic nominee and since the state’s March 10 presidential primary election.

Trump, the Republican incumbent, won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, becoming the first GOP presidential nominee to carry the state since 1988. Trump has made past trade agreements that spurred jobs to move out of the U.S. a focus of his campaigns and of his criticism of Biden.

Biden spent his career “outsourcing the dreams of American workers, offshoring their jobs,” Trump contended during the Republican National Convention in August.

Michigan Republicans criticized Biden on Wednesday for making proposals that are similar to points Trump has made on the campaign trail. U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, called Biden “Johnny-come-lately.”

Joe Biden speaks to media as he walks to board his plane General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wis., Thursday.

“He’s singing a song that was produced by the guy he’s opposing,” Walberg said of Biden.

But Biden’s campaign said Trump’s 2017 tax plan gave “the largest tax cut ever to major multinational companies with no requirement that they invest in America or hire American workers.”

Biden’s new proposal would establish an “offshoring penalty surtax” on profits of any production by a United States company overseas for sales back to the United States. With a 28% corporate tax rate and the surtax, companies would pay a 30.8% tax rate on such profits, according to the plan.

The surtax will also apply to call centers or services by an American company located overseas but serving the United States when jobs could have been located in the United States, the plan says.

Biden wants to create a “Made in America” tax credit, which will be a 10% advanceable credit for companies making investments that create jobs for American workers and “accelerate economic recovery to build back better.” The credit will be available for companies that revitalize closed facilities, expand U.S. employment and bring jobs back to the U.S.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event on manufacturing and buying American-made products at UAW Region 1 headquarters in Warren, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

Biden’s campaign said Wednesday morning that he will issue an executive order to direct federal procurement to abide by “buy American” rules and “ensure critical goods are produced at home when America needs them”

During his speech, he also mentioned a plan to offer incentives to spur customers to swap older vehicles for newer, American made models. American manufacturing was the “Arsenal of Democracy” in World War II, he said.

“Guess what? It’s going to be part of the engine of American prosperity now in 2021. And we’re going to make it happen with American grit, American determination and American union workers,” Biden said.

The Biden proposal is reminiscent of a $3 billion Obama administration initiative known as “cash for clunkers,” which helped more than 690,000 people buy a new car in 2009 with government rebates of up to $4,500.

Critics argued car sales receded after the federal incentives expired because consumers moved up their planned purchases to take advantage of the government subsidy. Under the law, the clunker trade-ins — vehicles getting less than 18 miles per gallon — were required to be “scrapped, crushed, or shredded,” creating a decline in supply that resulted in historic high prices for used cars and fewer charity vehicle donations.

The Democrat’s campaign has focused on Biden’s record on auto manufacturing jobs, including his involvement in the 2009 auto bailout. Biden has been endorsed by the UAW, which traditionally backs the Democratic nominee.

United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble had planned to welcome Biden for Wednesday’s event but went into a precautionary quarantine as a family member had COVID-19 symptoms. Gamble is under federal investigation as part of a broader corruption probe headed by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department. 

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry took Gamble’s place at the event.

Biden had “talked the talk” and “walked the walk” on auto jobs, Curry said.

The Biden event was protested by about 30 Trump supporters, who chanted “Don’t sell America out” and “UAW for Trump.” They decried a potential Biden presidency as being disastrous for the country.

Jennifer VanSickle, 61, of Mount Clemens, held a sign that read, “Fund The Police.” 

“My husband got a really great job under Trump’s economy and I want him to be able to keep it,” said VanSickle, a housewife. “And I feel if Biden gets in, everything’s going to go down the tubes, everything my family and I worked for, with Biden’s tax strategy.”

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation has reviewed Biden’s proposed tax strategies, which it says would include raising individual income taxes and payroll taxes on individuals with incomes above $400,000.

The Democrat’s plan would raise $3.8 trillion over the next decade, the foundation estimates.  

While Biden wants to tax the wealthy, “those are the people that give out jobs and people who are earning that much, they may not really be earning that much because they have to make payroll, they pay federal taxes, equipment, capital,” VanSickle said. “I just feel that Biden’s economy is going to depress the economy.”

Dennis Schnabel, 73, of Shelby Township, said there are more Trump supporters “that are just not coming out and saying it.”

“I think he’s going to win by a landslide,” Schnabel said. “I hope he does because if you look at the Democratic agenda, welcome to socialism and that scares the heck outta me.”

Though fewer in number, Biden supporters who couldn’t get into the Warren event held flags for their candidate.

Biden has “the experience, 48 years of experience in government, knows what he’s doing and hopefully can repair our relationships with our allies that are so badly fractured and most of all take over the COVID response, which has been really poor and costing a lot of people their lives,” said Mary Alice Schulte, 55, of Rochester Hill.

The Trump presidency, she said, has been a failure. “I think he’s a very negative person, and I think he’s brought a lot of negativity and division to the country,” Schulte said.

She said of the Trump legions who were protesting Biden: “I just think it’s sad because Trump’s not representing their interests.”

Trump will visit Michigan on Thursday night when he will speak at an airport hangar in Freeland near Saginaw

Staff Writer Leonard N. Fleming contributed

cmauger@detroitnews.com