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Joe Biden in Detroit: Under Trump, U.S. going to 'hell in a hand basket economically'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Detroit — Democrat Joe Biden ended his day of presidential campaigning in Michigan by telling a group of steelworkers that President Donald Trump is letting the country go to "hell in a hand basket economically."

The former vice president spoke with four steelworkers in a small backyard gathering in Detroit for about 45 minutes Wednesday night, hours after he unveiled a plan to financially penalize companies that move jobs overseas and provide a 10% tax credit for those that invest within the country's borders.

Biden also gave a speech at a United Auto Workers hall in Warren Wednesday afternoon as he campaigned for support in a state Trump won by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden talks with steelworkers outside a home in Detroit on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

“It just drives me crazy that the county is going to hell in a hand basket economically and politically and in terms of our health, and we’re doing nothing about it," Biden said. "We’re not doing a thing about it. But there's answers to these things.

"But what’s the president do? To keep from being able to have us focusing on that, he’s trying to scare the hell out of you, 'Watch out man, Black Lives Matter, they're going to come and get you and burn down your city.'"

For Trump, it's "all about division," Biden said. "We have a chance to unite the country," the former vice president added.

Republicans on Wednesday repeatedly slammed Biden and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, for the nominee's past support of trade deals that led some companies to move jobs out of the United States.

Biden supported the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which Trump has replaced with the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. The new trade pact requires  automakers to produce cars with 75% of parts originating from the United States, Canada or Mexico — up from 62.5% — within five years to qualify for duty-free treatment.

"We know exactly what a Biden/Harris administration will look like for Michiganders  — skyrocketing energy costs, destruction of manufacturing jobs, and an ‘America Last’ foreign policy," said Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican  Party. "The people of Michigan won’t be fooled.”

Trump will hold his own campaign event at an airport hangar in Freeland, near Saginaw, on Thursday night.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought restrictions on large public gatherings, Biden has been meeting with small groups of voters.

On Wednesday in Detroit, it was steelworkers who gathered at the home of state Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit. Behind a white fence, Biden and four steelworkers sat in patio chairs, wearing masks and discussing economic policy.

Andrea Hunter, president of United Steelworkers Local 1299, said her union has 800 workers who are laid off. Some of them are having problems accessing unemployment benefits, she said.

“I get photographs of empty refrigerators," Hunter said. "They can’t feed their kids."

Michigan saw a record surge in unemployment claims this spring as businesses closed to stem the spread of COVID-19. The nation's unemployment rate, which had reached as low as 3.5% before the pandemic, hit double digits amid the closures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Biden focused Wednesday on his plans to penalize companies that move jobs overseas and ensure the wealthy begin "to pay what they should be paying." The former vice president has vowed not to raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year.

“We’re not punishing anybody, just making sure people start paying their fair share," he said.

In 2018, Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports that he said were undercutting U.S. steel makers and threatening national security. The duties were slapped on steel imports from China, Europe and many other nations.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden listens as a steelworker discusses the economy during a stop in Detroit on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

Trump imposed the tariffs under Section 232 of a 1962 trade expansion law, which gives the president broad power to restrict imports to protect national security. Neither the Republican-controlled Senate nor the Democratic-led House has moved legislation to rein in the steel tariffs.

The U.S. steel industry has been in decline for decades, and the U.S. government has periodically slapped foreign competitors with countervailing tariffs. Critics have argued that steel tariffs drive up the price of steel and raise costs for steel-using industries, which in turn cost jobs.

Repeatedly during his Michigan visit Wednesday, Biden touted the importance of labor unions. He vowed to be the "most friendly" president to unions in the history of the country during his speech in Warren.

“The only power we can put together is union power," Biden said Wednesday night. "Not a joke. You are the guys who keep the barbarians at the other side of the gate.”

cmauger@detroitnews.com