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Lansing — Vice President Mike Pence touted the Trump administration's commitment to agriculture before a group of 475 farmers Tuesday while taking swipes at two prominent Democratic presidential hopefuls during a bus tour of Michigan. 

After the dig at former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on stage in Lansing, Pence also questioned Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' popularity with Michigan voters in a later interview.

Sanders narrowly won the Michigan Democratic primary in 2016. But Pence questioned whether the self-declared democratic socialist's support of national health care plan called "Medicare for All" would be received well by unionized auto workers whose contract negotiations have in part focused on securing private health insurance. 

"Telling hundreds of thousands of of UAW workers that they'll lose their health insurance doesn't sound like a winning message," the vice president told reporters Tuesday.

The comments came a few hours after the vice president took a veiled shot at Bloomberg over recently resurfaced remarks where the former New York City mayor said he can "teach anybody to be a farmer."

"I have never heard a more uninformed, ignorant statement about agriculture in my life," Pence said, but he didn't mention Bloomberg by name.

Bloomberg supporters have argued he was explaining how different processes from farming to manufacturing have changed over the years and didn't mean his comment as a slight.

At a Troy campaign event later in the day, Pence repeated his criticism of Bloomberg over the farming comments and pinged Sanders for having praised Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's literacy program in a "60 Minutes" interview and a Monday town hall — which has prompted Florida Democratic officials to repudiate the Vermont senator's remarks. 

Remarks in Lansing

Pence's trip to Michigan, his third bus tour in the state since early December, included stops at a Lansing diner, the Michigan Farm Bureau's Lansing Legislative Session and a Keep America Great rally in Troy. 

In Lansing, Pence thanked farmers for "standing strong ... oftentimes through very difficult and challenging times."

The Trump administration has been warring with China on trade issues, resulting in tariffs being slapped on U.S. agricultural products. But the vice president said "the era of economic surrender to China is over."

"This president and this entire administration have supported agriculture from the very beginning," Pence told the Farm Bureau audience, a traditional Republican ally. "And just as you’ve stood with us … we will always stand with you."

Priorities USA, a Democratic super political action committee, noted that farm bankruptcies reached their highest level in the United States in eight years in 2019. Michigan had 15 of the nation's 595 Chapter 12 bankruptcies, according to federal statistics.

The Trump administration has made a "phase one" trade deal with China, which the vice president called "a start" that requires more work. 

Pence was met at the Capitol Region International Airport in Lansingby a contingent of Republicans, including former Attorney General Bill Schuette, U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland, state Rep. Triston Cole of Mancelona and state Rep. Joe Bellino of Monroe. 

The vice president then stopped at Fleetwood Diner in Lansing, where he talked with customers such as 89-year-old Beatrice Skory of Lansing. He said he ordered blueberry pancakes for National Pancake Day.

People gathered in the diner during the roughly 20-minute stop seemed mostly receptive to his visit in a city dominated by Democrats. A few diners broke into a “Four More Years” chant. 

Troy campaign rally

In Troy, Pence touted President Donald Trump's economic and trade policies, his judicial appointments to federal courts and the president's foreign policy, especially as it relates to America's support for Israel.

Troy has been a GOP area, but the city narrowly favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by 311 votes, or seven-tenths of a percentage point, in 2016. Democrats were elected to the state House and state Senate seats representing the city in 2018.

"It was amazing to see you all out today," Pence said. "...Here in Michigan, we believed we could be strong again. We believed we could be prosperous again. Michigan said yes to President Donald Trump in 2016, and I know Michigan is going to say yes to four more years."

Ahead of the visit, Michigan Democrats criticized "Trump's broken health care promises" and held a press conference in Troy prior to Air Force Two's landing in Lansing. The press conference at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Troy included remarks from Oakland County Democratic Party Chairman Vaughn Derderian. 

The Trump administration, Derderian said, has worked with congressional Republicans to decrease health insurance coverage for Michigan residents "from day one."

"With some of their first actions in office, this administration attempted to gut protections for pre-existing conditions and strip health care coverage from millions, including 720,000 Michiganders," Derderian said in a statement. "When they failed at that, they proceeded to propose budget after budget, each time finding new ways to cut funding for critical health care programs."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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