Biden defends Tlaib against 'go back' attack: Does Trump know her home is Michigan?

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, joined Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for lunch on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, at Brome in Dearborn.

Dearborn —  Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden on Wednesday defended U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit against continued attacks from Republican President Donald Trump. 

“It’s outrageous what he’s doing,” the former vice president said of Trump after lunching at the Brome restaurant in Dearborn with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and local Muslim leaders.

‘“Go back home?’ Does he know here home is Michigan?” Biden said. “C’mon man. ‘Send her back?’ We gotta send him back.”

Trump sparked controversy this month when he called on Tlaib and three other congresswomen of color — all U.S. citizens — to “go back” where they came from. The president on Tuesday called Tlaib, a Michigan native of Palestinian descent who is one of two Muslim women in Congress, a “crazed lunatic.”

Biden attracted a crowd at Brome after he entered the restaurant through a back door, arm in arm with Duggan, who this week endorsed the former Delaware senator for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

He shook hands and waved to a young woman in a hijab who giggled as she waved back. "This is why we're strong — this is second generation," he said after posing for a picture with a 19-year-old Muslim woman after the event. 

Biden ordered the Original Burger with cheese along with salt and pepper fries. The restaurant also temporarily offered customers a Biden Burger, a re-branded deluxe offering with added American cheese.

"I had a cheeseburger, and it came very closer to the Biden Burger," Biden joked.

The visit to Dearborn, home to one of the country's largest populations of Arab Americans, came shortly after Biden and nine other presidential candidates addressed black leaders and activists at a national NAACP convention in Detroit.

The 76-year-old former senator talked with Mika’il Stewart Saadiq of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, Sheikh Ahmed Hammoud of the Islamic Center of America and Shaykh Mohamad Almasmari of the Muslim Unity Center.

He was joined on the trip by his granddaughter, Finnegan, who is a college junior.

"If Joe Biden could sit down with everybody in America, he'd win in a landslide," Duggan said after the lunch, recounting Biden's interactions in the restaurant with both 70-year-old customers and teenagers. "He just related to everybody."

Biden grew into a major advocate for Detroit during the Obama administration, paying visits to the city during its revitalization and helping it to land federal grants. Duggan described Biden as a "car guy" and noted he "spent a lot of time" with the vice president when Detroit was going through bankruptcy. 

"We have a lot of talent in the Democratic Party, and I think a lot of Democrats could compete (against Trump)," the mayor said. "I don't think anybody would be as strong in Michigan as Joe Biden."

Duggan also introduced Biden later in the evening during a private campaign fundraiser at the home of Detroit businessman Dennis Archer Jr.

Speaking to more than 100 donors, Biden spoke primarily about Trump, criticizing the Republican incumbent on both domestic and foreign policy while arguing the president has hurt the country’s reputation around the world.

“Eight years of this man will change the nature of who we are in this country,” Biden said. “He wants to be president for a base, his base, about 30 percent of the public. I want to be president for all Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents.”

Attendees included former Gov. Jim Blanchard, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer (father of the host), civil rights attorney Butch Hollowell, former Detroit City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel and Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah.

Former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson also attended the private fundraiser with his wife, Julianna Smoot, former White House Social Secretary and deputy manager on President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

“The last thing you all need is another tax cut, and you ain’t getting it from me,” Biden told the affluent crowd, saying he would focus on growing the middle class if elected president. “When they do well, the wealthy do very well, and the poor have hope and have a way up.”

Biden rarely mentioned his Democratic primary competitors — joking that there were about 300 of them — until local businessman George Barnes, owner of Heritage Optical, urged him to be tougher in the second presidential debate next week in Detroit.

“I’m not going to be as polite this time,” Biden vowed, referencing his sparring with Sen. Kamala Harris in the first debate. “Because this is the same person who asked me to come to California and nominate her in her convention.”

Biden raised more than $22 million nationally in the second quarter, the second-highest total among the 25 Democratic candidates, but his Michigan haul of around $68,000 was only the fifth-highest among the field.

Duggan and Biden are longtime political allies, and the mayor joined the presidential hopeful at several campaign events despite political controversies that have surrounded his own office in recent months.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office is reviewing allegations that two city of Detroit employees were directed to delete emails related to a nonprofit dedicated to premature births known as the Make Your Date program. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks on Wednesday (July 24, 2019) with Mika’il Stewart Saadiq of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, Sheikh Ahmed Hammoud of the Islamic Center of America and Shaykh Mohamad Almasmari of the Muslim Unity Center.

The state's review comes amid a probe launched this spring by Detroit Inspector General Ellen Ha to determine whether Duggan and city officials potentially "abused their authority" by providing preferential treatment to the program run by Wayne State University. 

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox has asked Nessel's office to investigate Duggan's chief development officer of grants, Ryan Friedrichs, who was accused in a whistleblower lawsuit of firing an employee for raising concerns over Detroit's Motor City Match program, a federally funded effort designed to aid small businesses.