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Kamala Harris' husband Emhoff: 'Everything's on the line right now'

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Huntington Woods — The man who could become the first second gentleman of the United States took President Donald Trump to task Monday as a failing and racist president who didn't deal with the coronavirus pandemic due to an "inept lack of caring and lack of action."

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, made three stops across Michigan on Monday to campaign for presidential candidate Joe Biden.

He kicked off the tour with a backyard speech in Huntington Woods. It included a roundtable discussion with local officials featuring U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township.

Emhoff, who is Jewish, and elected officials at the private, socially distanced event also spoke of what they argue is anti-Semitism coming from the White House, that Michigan will not be taken for granted by the Democratic ticket and that Biden and his wife will get the pandemic under control and repair the economy. 

Doug Emhoff, husband of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, attends a Jewish Americans for Biden Listening Session in Huntington Woods, Mich. in Detroit on Oct. 12, 2020.

"Everything's on the line right now, everything that we value," Emhoff said. "Our democracy, our very lives are on the line right now. It is no understatement and not a cliche to say that this is the most important election of our lifetime."

Trump's Sept. 29 debate performance "made us all sick to our stomachs" and "was hard to watch. Nothing was harder than seeing Trump get up there and fail to speak out against white supremacists, anti-Semites and racists," he said.

When moderator Chris Wallace asked the president whether he would condemn white supremacist and militia groups, Trump said "sure." After Wallace finished his question, the president said: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by."

On other occasions, Trump has more condemned bigotry and white supremacy, including in August 2019 after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 

"Trump has showed and he keeps showing us who he is," Emhoff said. "He's not even trying to hide it. From now until Nov. 3..., we need to show him who we are and the way we do that is by voting and voting early. The fundamental character of America is on the line."

Later in the day, Emhoff, an attorney by trade, visited the Livingston County Democratic Party office in Brighton and spoke outside the Michigan AFL-CIO building in downtown Lansing. About 70 people gathered in a parking lot to hear his speech, which came as rain fell on the audience at about 6 p.m.

In Lansing, he was joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

Whitmer's actions to combat COVID-19 had been an "absolute model" and saved "the lives of countless" Michigan residents, Emhoff said. He referenced the arrests of 13 individuals last week in a plot to kidnap Whitmer and said threats levied against her could be traced back to Trump's words. The president has said the accusation is baseless.

"On Nov. 3, we’re going to win this election and we’re going to put this division behind us," Emhoff said.

The Michigan Trump campaign panned the visit by Harris' husband. "Parachuting Doug Emhoff into Michigan with 22 days until Election Day will do nothing to improve Joe Biden and the Democrats' failed field program," which has knocked on 1 million fewer doors than the Trump campaign, Trump Victory spokesman Chris Gustafson said in a statement.

Emhoff criticized Trump for planning to hold a Monday rally in Florida after testing positive for the coranavirus. Trump insisted Sunday that he has tested negative, but the White House has not confirmed such a result.

The president "is out doing rallies without a mask. It's just not OK," Emhoff said.

"Wear your mask. It's simple," he said. "I was just looking at the clip from Sen. Harris' hearing (on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett) and she's smart. She's doing it virtually."

Levin, who is Jewish, called Trump the most anti-Semitic president since Richard Nixon "and the anti-Semitic tropes just tumble out of his mouth, even when he's trying to appeal to Jewish people or say he's close to us."

"He talks about your country, meaning Israel. No, dude, I'm an American," Levin said.

Trump's defenders have rejected the argument that Trump is anti-Semitic, noting his support for Israel and the presence of senior White House advisers Jared Kushner, the descendant of Holocaust survivors, and his wife Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism before marrying Kushner.

Emhoff said he has ties to Michigan and enjoys campaigning in the state because "I think half my friends in California are from here so I know your state very well, I know the people, I know the community."

He was with Harris, the U.S. senator from California, during a visit to Flint. When she visited the city that suffered the lead-contaminated water crisis, Emhoff called it "one of the most impactful things that I did on the campaign. It never left me and it will never leave me."

Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard who attended the event, called the Biden-Harris team "a very strong ticket."

Doug Emhoff, left, husband of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, talks with U.S. Rep. Andy Levin during a panel discussion at a Jewish Americans for Biden Listening Session in Huntington Woods, Mich. in Detroit on Oct. 12, 2020.

"If the election were held today, I think we would have a decisive victory," Blanchard said. A Detroit News-WDIV poll from early this month showed Biden leading 48%-39%. 

"The problem is we have a month to go," Blanchard said, "and you've got to keep the pedal to the medal."

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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Twitter:@leonardnfleming