Trump set to visit Detroit area for auto-related event

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The White House said President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday will visit the Detroit area, where he will talk up his priorities of bolstering the manufacturing industry and taming the outsourcing of American jobs.

Trump is expected to visit visit the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run in Ypsilanti Township around mid-day to announce the reopening of the mid-term review of fuel economy standards, according to two sources familiar with the plans. Chief executives from major automakers are expected to attend, the sources said.

The American Center for Mobility, a nonprofit testing site for future connected and self-driving vehicles, sits on a 355-acre Willow Run site.

The White House did not immediately confirm the details on the location.

Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation are expected to reopen the review of greenhouse gas emission standards that require automakers to produce car and truck fleets averaging more than 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The fuel-economy standards were supposed to be reviewed in 2018 but in its last days the Obama administration EPA pushed through portions of the regulations before Trump took office.

The Auto Alliance, a trade group which represents automakers including Detroit’s Big Three, has said this “unnecessarily politicized” the midterm review of the emission standards by moving to finalize the regulations ahead of schedule.

The automakers argued that, under the stringent targets locked under Obama, the industry would have to spend $200 billion between 2012 and 2025 to comply.

In what will be his first visit to Michigan since taking office, Trump is expected to meet with representatives of the auto companies, suppliers and unions, including a rally with workers, said a senior administration official who exclusively briefed The Detroit News.

“This is a continuation of a dialogue with the auto industry leaders, and also going back and reconnecting with a lot of the people who elected him,” said Chris Liddell, former chief financial officer of General Motors Co. who is now assistant to the president for strategic initiatives at the White House.

Trump was last in Michigan on Dec. 9, when he visited the Grand Rapids area for a rally as part of his “thank you” tour of states that helped him win the presidential election. The former New York businessman won the state by 10,704 votes, helping Republicans take the state for the first time since 1988.

Wednesday’s visit will be Trump’s first to Michigan since taking office. Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday it’ll be a great opportunity to highlight the state's progress with intelligent and autonomous vehicles and the importance to Michigan of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- which the president has criticized and wants to be renegotiated.

The governor did not say if he will be attending any talks with Trump. Snyder’s staff said after a Monday news conference in Detroit that those details are still being worked out.

Trump’s return to Michigan underscores his focus on the auto industry, which he has publicly pressured to move manufacturing jobs and plants back to the states.

During his first week in office, Trump met privately with chief executives of Ford Motor Co., GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV at the White House. GM CEO and Chairman Mary Barra is part of an economic policy group advising the president, and Ford President and CEO Mark Fields sits on a manufacturing council advising him.

Trump has singled out Ford and GM for making cars in Mexico and importing them into the United States. During his campaign, he vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico or, if unsuccessful, slap a tariff as high as 35 percent on autos and other products made in Mexico.

After slamming Ford for months for planning a new factory in Mexico, the president praised the Dearborn automaker when it scrapped the idea – even though Ford insisted the decision was not prompted by Trump's criticism.

“Since my election, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Intel, Wal-Mart, and many others, have announced that they will invest billions of dollars in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new American jobs,” Trump said in a recent speech to Congress.

Trump might use his Michigan visit to sell House Republicans’ replacement for the Affordable Care Act, which has taken some criticism from conservatives. Gov. Rick Snyder has remained quiet about the House GOP’s new plan.

The president also might urge his supporters to lean on their senators, Democrats Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, to support his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch – or at minimum, not to block a vote on his nomination.

In early February, the National Republican Senatorial Committee ran a television ad in Michigan directing viewers to call Stabenow and tell her to “put your country ahead of your party” by encouraging Democratic leaders to allow a vote on Gorsuch’s nomination.

Stabenow and Peters have not said how they’ll vote on Gorsuch but have opposed several other Trump nominees.

Trump ended his presidential campaign in the early morning hours of Election Day, Nov. 8, with a rally at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. Michigan subsequently proved to be among Trump’s crucial wins after the Republican captured the swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Iowa and Ohio.

After the Metro Detroit visit, Trump is scheduled to headline a rally later Wednesday in Nashville.

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Staff Writers Melissa Burden, Christine Ferretti and Ian Thibodeau contributed.