Democratic U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar brought their presidential campaigns to Detroit this week, outlining their visions for the country in separate speeches before a gathering of African-American leaders. 

Booker spoke Thursday and Klobuchar Friday at the National Organization of Black County Officials economic development conference at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

Klobuchar touted her $1 trillion spending plan that she said would take the nation’s infrastructure “to the next level.” The Minnesota senator told the crowd that unlike Republican President Donald Trump, she has a plan to pay for the potential investment.

Infrastructure is about more than just roads and bridges, Klobuchar said. “It’s about water systems, like the tragedy in Flint, where people are still drinking bottled water.” And it’s about investing in mass transit to “even the playing field” by helping more people get to work, she said.

The senior U.S. senator for Minnesota previously served as Hennepin County attorney and praised local officials who work “on the front lines.” 

“I cannot tell you how important this is right now,” she told the county leaders. “People trust you. They trust their local county commissioners. They trust they mayors. They don’t trust a lot of what’s happening right now in Washington, D.C., so you are literally holding it up for all of us.”

Booker, the junior senator for New Jersey, highlighted his work as a former mayor and councilman in Newark, which he still calls home. He said Thursday he is the only presidential candidate who lives in an “inner city, black and brown community” that still faces economic struggles.

“The reality is if we don’t have great local leaders getting it done in our counties than whoever we have in the White House, change will not be made,” he told the county officials.

Since winning election to the Senate in 2013, Booker said he has focused on criminal justice reforms, access to affordable housing and sponsored bipartisan legislation to create economic “opportunity zones.”

He proposed rolling back what he called the “toxic Trump tax cuts that blew trillion-dollar holes in our deficit” to instead expand “massively” the earned income tax credit for lower income residents.

“It would take the incomes of 150 million working Americans and raise them. It would cut poverty by a third,” he said. And unlike wealthier residents who may use tax savings to pad bank accounts, consumers and average workers would be “putting that money into the economy,” he said.

Klobuchar also proposed rolling back parts of the Trump tax cut to pay for her infrastructure plan. Raising the corporate income tax rate back to 25 percent could generate $400 billion a year, she said, and restoring the international tax rate and making other changes could free up $1 trillion for infrastructure.

Booker and Klobuchar are the latest 2020 presidential candidates — including Trump — to campaign in Michigan more than 10 months out from the March primary, and more are on their way.

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California and entrepreneur Andrew Yang are expected in Detroit this weekend. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont campaigned in West Michigan and Macomb County last month. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York held events in Metro Detroit in March.

Booker's Detroit roots

In his Detroit speech, Booker noted his family roots in the city, where his grandfather worked on an Ford assembly line and was a union organizer. He’s previously said his mother was also born in Detroit.

The city brought his family “from poverty to the middle class,” he said, noting stories of his grandfather’s activism in Detroit and support for social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The 50-year-old described himself as a “fierce pragmatist” less interested in fighting with Republicans than finding common ground and ways to work together to solve problems.

“This can’t just be a campaign about slogans,” he said. “I hear ‘Medicare for all.’ Hey, I’m for that system, but we should have a more pragmatic conversation about what that actually means and how do we get there.”

On health care, Booker noted some countries make it illegal for drug companies to charge higher prescription medication prices than they do in other parts of the world.

“And if I’m president, I’m going to take away the patents from these drug companies if they do that so the generics can come in and undercut their prices,” he said.

Klobuchar's health focus

Klobuchar, 58, has not joined several other Democratic presidential candidates calling for a government-run Medicare for All-style health care system. Instead, she said she wants to improve the Affordable Care Act and provide a public coverage option to compete with private insurer plans.

She also described plans to reduce prescription prices, including easier import rules, telling the crowd that "In Michigan and Minnesota, we can see Canada from our porch, and they have a lot less expensive drugs."

Klobuchar criticized Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and urged him to “stop the name calling and all the mean tweets,” noting the president mocked her for discussing climate change threats when she announced her candidacy during a snow storm.

Trump tweeted that Klobuchar “looked like a snowman(woman)!” by the end of her speech, but Klobuchar said announcing her campaign in a snow storm was an example of the “grit” she would bring to the job.

“You have to have grit when you’re someone like me who is not running on a lot of money, but I’m running based on my ideals and running on the fact that I think we should be governing in the White House not from chaos but from opportunity,” she said.

Booker challenged Democrats to focus on meaningful policies to improve voter’s lives, not just anger with the president.

At a recent campaign event in Iowa, where candidates flock to woo caucus goers in the first contest of the presidential cycle, Booker said a man told him he wanted him to punch Trump in the face. He said he told the man it would be a felony and invited him to hear his speech about why “love is the best strategy.”

“You don’t fight somebody that’s a demagogue, who’s hateful, on their turf and on their terms,” Booker said. “All of us here now we don’t win in our communities by beating people down. We win by lifting them up.”

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