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Pence in Grand Rapids: Biden wants to 'pack' Supreme Court

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Vice President Mike Pence made a campaign push Wednesday for President Donald Trump in West Michigan by saying Democrat Joe Biden wants to "pack" the Supreme Court with liberal justices.

Pence spoke for about 50 minutes outside Lacks Enterprises in Kent County, 20 days before the Nov. 3 election. He argued that Biden and his Democratic running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, want to "pack" the Supreme Court by adding seats instead of just filling vacancies and described Election Day as a choice of "whether America remains America.”

"When you’re running for the highest office in the land, you owe it to the American people to say whether or not you’re going to respect the highest court in the land," Pence told a crowd of a few hundred people.

The vice president said Biden would add seats to the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court and appoint additional justices. It would be the "biggest power grab" in American history, Pence said.

Biden said Tuesday he is “not a fan” of adding seats to the Supreme Court but didn't rule it out. The former vice president contended that Trump's filling of existing court vacancies is somehow court "packing."  

But Pence said the Democrat had dodged the question.

“They’re ducking the question because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to pack the Supreme Court with liberal judges if they win this election," the vice president said, before adding, “But we’re not going to let it happen."

Vice president Mike Pence visits LACKS Enterprises Inc in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 14, 2020.

A Sept. 30-Oct. 3 Detroit News-WDIV poll found little support among 600 likely Michigan voters for expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court from nine to 11 — something raised by some progressive activists. 

Conservative critics have called the tactic "court packing," a term first applied to legislation proposed in 1937 by President Franklin Roosevelt to add justices to the court in a bid to get more favorable rulings.

Almost half or 47% of respondents opposed adding two justices to the court's lineup, while 30% supported the idea. A significant slice of respondents, 23%, responded they "don't know" or it depends. 

The poll by the Glengariff Group had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Pence's Grand Rapids stop came three days before the president himself will visit Muskegon on Saturday as Republicans make a push to reclaim Michigan, a state Trump won by 10,704 votes in 2016.

"The road to victory runs right through Michigan," Pence said in a speech. 

The vice president also urged voters to back Republican challenger John James in his race against U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and GOP candidate Peter Meijer in his Grand Rapids congressional race against Democrat Hillary Scholten.

When Pence arrived at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, he was greeted by Meijer, who is running for the 3rd Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, L-Cascade Township. Amash decided against seeking re-election. Both Meijer and Pence wore masks. 

The vice president has done an "outstanding job" laying out the president's track record of successes, Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said Monday.

"I'm going to encourage him to talk about manufacturing, all the successes they've had with trade policies, manufacturing policies, those kinds of items," Cox said before the event. "He's very good at retail campaigning, which is talking directly to voters and shaking hands. I don't know if they'll be shaking hands, obviously."

Pence spoke Wednesday about manufacturing jobs and trade policy. He touted the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trump's placement for the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

Under the new trade pact, signed into law in January, automakers have to produce cars with 75% of parts originating from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The requirement, referred to as “rules of origin,” is an increase from 62.5% under NAFTA rules.

In addition, 40-45% of an auto's content must be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour.

Pence criticized Harris for opposing the USMCA pact, contending that she put her “radical environmental agenda" ahead of Michigan's auto jobs. He made a similar argument during last week's vice presidential debate as Harris blasted him for opposing the government's financial rescue of the auto industry during the Great Recession.

"Joe Biden is responsible for saving America's auto industry, and you voted against it,” Harris said, referring to the auto bailout. “So let's set the record straight.”

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in a state that Trump won by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally. The city is located in pivotal Kent County, where the Republican president won by 3 percentage points, fewer than 10,000 votes, in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Two years later, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won Kent County by 4 percentage points, or about 11,600 votes, on her way to becoming governor.

Biden visited Grand Rapids on Oct. 2, speaking to a small group outside the office of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. His wife, Jill Biden, visited the city on Sept. 15.

Biden led Trump 48% to 39% in a Detroit News and WDIV poll of 600 likely voters who were surveyed over the four days following the Sept. 29 presidential debate in Cleveland.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a GOP unity rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Aug. 8, 2018. Pence is visiting Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.

Mark Carlson of Greenville was in the crowd for Pence's Wednesday speech. He voiced support for the vice president's "stand for religious rights" and law enforcement.

"I thought it was great," Carlson said. "He said everything I wanted to hear."

On Wednesday, Biden for President Deputy Campaign Manager and Communications Director Kate Bedingfield argued that Pence and Trump had failed Michigan and "bungled" the COVID-19 response.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had reported 139,061 confirmed COIVD-19 cases and 6,941 deaths linked to the virus.

Bedingfield argued that Biden "has a plan to build our economy back better and create millions of good-paying jobs. Michiganders know that Joe Biden will always have their backs.”

cmauger@detroitnews.com