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    Confusion swirls around Biden’s trip to visit striking autoworkers

    Susan Walsh/AP

    President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with the presidential advisory board on historically Black colleges and universities in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, September 25, 2023.


    Confusion reigned on the eve of Joe Biden’s Tuesday trip to Michigan, as the White House scrambled to finalize the president’s plans for visiting striking autoworkers and lawmakers were left guessing about his itinerary.

    On Monday afternoon, members of the United Auto Workers at the site of one picket line were told that Biden would be coming to their location, only to hear later that that tentative plan was scrapped. In the absence of an announced plan from the White House, speculation spread through the UAW ranks that Biden would go to whatever picket line was closest to the airport. There was even a rumor on Monday that Biden’s trip may have been canceled altogether – a possibility that one White House official flatly denied.

    It is highly atypical for a presidential visit to be so shrouded in uncertainty at such a late hour.

    Meanwhile, members of the White House press corps looking to cover the president’s visit were also unsure even as of late Monday where exactly in Wayne County to go. Multiple Michigan Democrats said they were given no advance details by the White House.

    The complicated logistics surrounding the president’s hastily announced visit were described to CNN by people familiar with the planning. One person on the ground described the process as “chaotic” and “a mess.”

    In many ways, the planning mirrored the thorny politics of the White House’s unusual decision to send Biden to stand in solidarity with union workers in the middle of an active strike. Biden had previously declined to do so to avoid the perception that he was taking sides in an ongoing labor dispute.

    Last week, the White House walked back plans for top advisers – acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior adviser Gene Sperling – to visit Detroit to offer to mediate talks. The change raised questions about what the administration might do in a situation where it has no legal or legislative authority to intervene, and further highlighted the deeply sensitive nature of the ongoing negotiations.

    The White House attempted to draw a tricky distinction on Monday, saying that Biden joining autoworkers on strike did not signal that he was supportive of any specific requests that the UAW might be making in the negotiations.

    “He is standing with the workers,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. But, she added, “We are not involved in negotiations. That is something for them to decide.”

    Reporters sought to put a finer point on his position later in the day, asking Biden directly whether he specifically supported some of the demands that workers are currently seeking from the Big Three automakers.

    “Yes I support – I always supported the UAW,” Biden told reporters on Monday.

    The possibility of Biden facing off again against former President Donald Trump next year has added political saliency to Tuesday’s visit to Michigan. Trump, too, is headed to Michigan this week, with prime-time remarks to union workers planned for Wednesday evening.

    Biden, who frequently describes himself as the “most pro-union” president the country has seen, is hoping to once again win the UAW’s coveted political endorsement ahead of 2024.

    Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, who said he has been in close contact with Sperling and others around the strike, said senior administration officials have described the current juncture as a “coming full circle” moment.

    “The [auto] companies were in trouble. The workers and federal government both played an important role in keeping the companies alive. Now they are so highly profitable that it’s time to bring it full circle,” Kildee said. “Let’s get the workers back to where they were before they and the federal government rescued the auto companies.”

    Since the early days of the administration, the Biden White House sought to avoid being seen as influencing third party negotiations, including Justice Department investigations of labor disputes. Biden has argued that his predecessor showed disregard for the independence of such processes.

    The White House on Monday denied that Trump’s decision to visit Michigan factored into Biden’s plans.

    “Absolutely not,” Jean-Pierre said.



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