5 min read

Biden heads to the picket line

Biden and Trump battle for union voters as the president makes a historic trip to the UAW picket line.
Biden heads to the picket line
Striking auto workers in Iowa. (UAW / Twitter)

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, September 26, 2023. The 2024 elections are 406 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

As far back as experts can remember, no U.S. president has ever visited striking workers on a picket line.

President Biden will break that streak today, joining striking members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) in Wayne County, Michigan, in an unprecedented show of presidential support for labor.

In some ways, Biden’s visit is a natural extension of the “Union Joe” persona he has built up over decades in public life, the one who loves marching in Labor Day parades and never fails to highlight his blue-collar Scranton roots. Biden, who launched his re-election bid with a rally featuring leaders of 17 major unions, likes to call himself “the most pro-union president in American history.”

But Biden’s ties to labor have been repeatedly tested by the series of strikes that have broken out throughout his presidency. Some rail workers, for example, have still not forgiven the president for signing legislation that ordered an end to their strike late last year, ratifying an agreement that left out many of the workers’ key demands.

But few work stoppages have presented as thorny a political challenge for Biden as the UAW strike, which began at three assembly plants earlier this month before expanding to 38 locations in 20 states last Friday. It is the first time in UAW history that the group has simultaneously declared a strike against all of the “Big Three” automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellanis, the parent company of Chrysler. (The UAW is closest to a deal with Ford. The new locations that began striking last week were all GM and Stellanis centers.)

The auto workers’ key demands are for a 36% pay raise, expanded benefits, and a four-day work week — but they are also advocating for job security amid the industry-wide transition to electric vehicles (EVs), which places their interests in awkward discordance with Biden’s climate agenda.  

The EV transition — which has been urged along by billions of dollars in subsidies secured by the Biden administration — looms over the auto strike. The workers are demanding that employees at plants that make batteries and other EV components — which are generally not unionized — be paid a union wage. The automakers say the expensive EV transition is already adding too many costs for them to also meet the workers’ demands, especially as the companies are facing firms like Tesla that boast a competitive advantage.

Notably, even as he has repeatedly offered support to the striking auto workers, Biden has stopped short of endorsing any of their specific demands. In turn, when the 17 unions endorsed Biden at the launch of his re-election bid, the UAW — which generally supports Democratic candidates — was conspicuously absent.

Donald Trump, Biden’s likely 2024 opponent, has spied an opportunity amid this collision of interests.

Trump has been working for years now to peel working-class voters away from Democrats, a mission he will continue with his own visit to Michigan tomorrow.

While his lower-polling rivals meet for their second debate in California, Trump will be in the suburbs of Detroit, addressing current and former UAW members at a non-union auto supplier in the area.

In a Truth Social post yesterday, Trump noted that Biden’s trip to Michigan only materialized after his own visit was announced. Trump also sought to drive in the EV wedge, declaring that Biden is “killing the United Autoworkers with his WEAK stance on China and his ridiculous insistence on All Electric Cars, every one of which will be made in China.”

The Trump-Biden battle for UAW support will be a key skirmish in the fight over Michigan, which is already one of the most contested swing states. Nationally, Trump fought Hillary Clinton to a draw among union households in 2016, winning 48% of the historically Democratic-leaning demographic to her 51%. Four years later, Biden won 56% of union households to Trump’s 40%, a feat he will likely have to repeat to win a second term.  

An NBC News poll out this morning highlighted the extent of Biden’s challenge, as he struggles to sell his “Bidenomics” message to working-class voters or the rest of the electorate. Asked in the poll which party they trust more to handle the economy, 28% of registered voters said Democrats while 49% said Republicans — the largest lead for the GOP on that question in NBC’s polling since 1991.

Meanwhile, Democrats boasted only a two-point edge — 36% to 34% — on which party voters trust to look out for the middle class, the smallest advantage Democrats have had on that question since 1989.

More news to know.

Only five Democratic senators have called on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to resign since his indictment on federal bribery charges. Expect their colleagues, especially Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), to face a battery of questions on Menendez as the Senate returns to work this morning.

Seven Republicans have qualified for tomorrow night’s debate: Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Tim Scott. One candidate who participated in the last debate, Asa Hutchinson, did not meet the criteria.

Hunter Biden is suing Rudy Giuliani for his role in obtaining Biden’s infamous laptop.

Onetime Green Party nominee Ralph Nader is offering his help to Democrats.

The Biden team is making changes to ensure the president doesn’t trip.

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will join the picket line in Wayne County, Michigan, and then fly to California for a fundraiser. VP Harris will continue her college tour with an event at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Senate: The upper chamber will vote to advance a bill that could be used as a vehicle for a stopgap funding bill to send over to the House.

House: The lower chamber will vote to advance a measure combining four of the 12 annual spending bills. It is unclear if House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will have enough votes to move forward with the legislation, after losing two procedural votes last week.

Supreme Court: The justices will meet for their annual “Long Conference,” their first meeting of the term, where they assess petitions that have stacked up over the summer or are left over from last year.

Before I go...

Here’s a fun story: The Washington Post checks in with a collection of former senators, who are happily retired even as their octogenarian — and even nonagenarian — ex-colleagues hang on.

“There is life after the Senate,” former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “And it’s good.”

Read the piece here for free.

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