91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The politics behind presidential visits with the UAW

President Joe Biden speaks to striking United Auto Workers on the picket line outside the Willow Run Redistribution Center, UAW Local 174, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Van Buren Township, MI.
Evan Vucci/AP
President Joe Biden speaks to striking United Auto Workers on the picket line outside the Willow Run Redistribution Center, UAW Local 174, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Van Buren Township, MI.

President Joe Biden was in Belleville Tuesday Sep 26, picketing with United Auto Workers. Former President Donald Trump is set to take the stage Wednesday Sep 27, in Clinton Township.

The UAW is striking against the Detroit Three automakers as contract negotiations continue. Both Biden and Trump have come to support those workers.

To talk about the politics behind these appearances, Political Director Zoe Clark joined Michigan Radio host Rebecca Kruth on All Things Considered .

Rebecca Kruth: Let’s start with President Biden who joined the picket line at GM's Willow Run Redistribution Center. This is the first time a sitting president has done this. Why Biden, and why now?

Zoe Clark: Yeah, I mean, it is a historic moment in time. As you note, the first time a sitting president has reportedly stood with UAW workers on a picket line. Look, Biden, of course, has called himself the most pro-union president ever. And he's trying to prove that with this visit. You know, Michigan is an important state in the Electoral College. Trump won the state in 2016 by a little over 10,000 votes. Biden [won it] in 2020 by more than 150,000 votes. And union workers - union voters are an important part of that electorate.

RK: And why now?

ZC: Well, initially, some folks within the administration were going to come to Michigan. And instead, last week, Sean Fain, the president - the head of the UAW, invited Biden to come, and so he did. But as you note, of course, President Trump is coming today to the state. But he is going to what's being reported as a non-union auto supplier.

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Summerville, S.C., Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. As his Republican rivals gather on stage in California for their second primary debate, former President Donald Trump will be in battleground Michigan Wednesday night working to win over blue collar voters in the midst of an autoworkers’ strike. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr., File)
Artie Walker Jr./AP
FR171867 AP
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Summerville, S.C., Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

RK: Right. So, in fact, Trump is actually skipping the second Republican primary debate this evening. Instead, he's coming to Michigan. Maybe that's not a huge surprise, though, since he skipped the first one. Do you think this is a good political move for him?

ZC: Yeah, I mean, look, debates are big stakes. And when you're dozens and dozens of points ahead, a campaign is going to internally think 'what good is going to come out of a debate?'. Now, of course the good, one could argue, is the sake of democracy. That you want candidates, you know, candidates running for the highest office in the land to answer questions, to engage in policy debates. But that is not a prerequisite.

Meantime, as I noted above, you know, Trump is working hard to take on Biden: on the economy, on inflation, on the transition to EVs in the auto space. And he wants to come to a purple state and try to speak to what his campaign sees as possible swing voters.

And it's also counterprogramming. During that first debate, Trump sat down with Tucker Carlson. Now it means Trump's visit will take some of the focus off the Republican candidates on stage tonight.

RK: Do you see either of these two visits, either Biden's or Trump's, costing anything campaign-wise?

ZC: Well, I mean, it's early to tell. You know, there is a lot of enthusiasm, particularly within the Democratic Party, for the workers on strike right now. And both Biden and Trump are working to co-opt that enthusiasm by standing with workers.

But, of course, we are two weeks into the strike. That sentiment could certainly change if the strike continues, and if it has big impacts on the economy. I think it's important to note what Fain just said, though, about former President Trump

UAW President Shawn Fain stands looking into the camera wearing a short sleaved shirt with a black and white camoflage print and the UAW logo on his chest during a livestreamed broadcast on YouTube.
UAW on YouTube
Screenshot of UAW President Shawn Fain during the union's online update to members Friday Sep 22, 2023.

Shawn Fain: "I don't think he cares about working class people. I think that he cares about the billionaire class. He cares about the corporate interests."

ZC: You know, for Trump, it's nuanced. He wants to appear to be pro-worker, but not necessarily pro-union.

RK: So they're both kind of toeing a line here.

ZC: Mmhmm.

RK: The UAW hasn't actually given Biden its endorsement for reelection as of this taping. Do you think that might change sometime soon?

AC: Yeah, The UAW endorsed Biden in 2020. The union has withheld that endorsement so far this cycle.

The president and Sean Fain rode in the presidential limo on the way from the airport, but Politico reported that a source told them the two did not speak about an endorsement.

When asked about this yesterday, though, Biden told reporters that he was not worried about it. And Fain thanked the president for his support and he said, "for being part of this fight."

Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Katheryne Friske is the weekend morning host and producer for All Things Considered.
Related Content