One union adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity to offer a blunt assessment, said Trump “is still himself and will say and do crazy shit.” But, the person added, “he actually has people who know what they’re doing.” He locked Biden up. It was pretty awesome.
Within the White House and Biden’s campaign, operatives scoffed at such an assessment. But their public statements — including aggressive criticism of Trump’s record on labor policy — betrayed fears that the former president could make further inroads among union voters.
And their private deliberations suggested they were still grappling with how the White House should approach the strike.
Biden’s team has privately considered whether to send a top lieutenant to the picket line to stand with UAW workers, according to two people familiar with those discussions. Exact details on who might go or where they might travel are unclear.
Yet even as it considered sending a public-facing official to the site of the strike, the White House was forgoing behind-the-scenes engagement. On Tuesday, the administration scrapped plans to send two Biden aides to Detroit this week to help both sides after union officials complained.
The back-and-forth within the White House over how to handle the strike illustrates the impasse Biden finds himself in as talks drag on between the so-called Big Three automakers and a powerful union that refuses his support to Biden on his handling of the strike. subsidies for electric vehicles. Although the strike is limited to three factories for now, it could deal a serious blow to the economy if an agreement is not reached quickly and more workers walk out.
The White House has tried to avoid a prolonged strike while expressing support for workers’ demands. But discontent is growing among Democrats and union officials over their approach — primarily the belief that the president, a self-described union diehard, has underestimated the level of discontent within the UAW.
There are many unknowns about Trump’s visit to Michigan, including where he will speak and whether he will also show up at the picket line. But his decision to go initially surprised some Democrats.
“Trump has us back. Now if we announce we’re leaving, it looks like we’re only going because of Trump,” said a Democratic national strategist. “We have waited too long. That’s the challenge.
Biden campaign officials insist it’s the president who has the upper hand: They argue that Trump’s visit to Michigan gives them an opportunity to remind voters — and union members in particular — of the record of Trump. This is undoubtedly a record that includes broken promises to workers and comments attacking UAW leadership.
They say it’s Trump who must catch Biden after the Democrat doubled his margin of victory among union households nationally in 2020 compared to Hillary Clinton four years earlier.
“Donald Trump’s anti-worker and anti-union record is a key reason why Michigan rejected Trump in 2020 and sent Joe Biden to the White House,” said Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa. “His failed presidency is characterized by automakers closing their doors and sending American jobs overseas while lining the pockets of the rich and big corporations.”
Michigan Democrats also criticized Trump, accusing him of trying to exploit workers and hiding his true record.
Trump “is not a person who is going to fight for wage increases, pensions, health care or job security for workers,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told POLITICO. “He just said that all electric vehicles would be built in China. This is not about fighting to maintain the competitiveness of the American auto industry in the global market.”
UAW President Shawn Fain, for his part, left no doubt that Trump has no chance of winning his union’s support. In a statement, he said “every fiber of our union is deployed to fight the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of working people.”
But Trump managed to win over many rank-and-file unionists in 2016, even if their leaders withheld their support. And behind the scenes, tensions have reigned between the UAW and the White House in recent days.
Last week, during a speech on the UAW strike, Biden announced he was sending White House senior adviser Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to Detroit. Their goal was to help the union and automakers reach a contract, but they will not intervene, the Biden administration said.
But UAW officials were frustrated with Sperling and Su’s plans to travel to Michigan, according to two people familiar with their thinking. Despite promises that they would not get involved or mediate, the union questioned what its exact role would be, the sources said.
Another source said UAW officials and businesses were also concerned about the timing of their planned visit. The trip, which was ultimately canceled at least this week, was scheduled to take place shortly after the strike began.
Fain shook his head at the tension on “Face the Nation” last weekend. “People say they are trying to interfere in our negotiations,” he said. “Our negotiators are fighting hard. Our leaders are fighting hard. This will be won at the bargaining table with our bargaining teams, with our members manning the picket lines and our allies on the ground. Who is the current president, who was the former president or the president before them, will not win this fight.”
Asked about the change in Biden aides’ plans, a White House official said that “given that negotiations are ongoing between the negotiating parties, it is more productive for Sperling and Su to continue their discussions from Washington and allow for talks to move forward, and we will continue to evaluate the travel schedule based on the active status of negotiations.
Sperling has been in regular contact with union officials and businesses for more than two months, and that is expected to continue. Su is also in contact with both sides and has stepped up contact with members of Congress on contract negotiations, including asking lawmakers for their opinions.
While some Biden allies are concerned about Trump’s visit to Detroit, other Democrats predict it will fail.
“I think it backfires,” said. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “Autoworkers know their interests and who supports them.”
Sam Stein and Brittany Gibson contributed to this report.