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Joe Biden returns to Michigan: 'There is no place for hate in America'

Southfield — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden returned Friday to Michigan, where he slammed President Donald Trump for not doing enough to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and hatred in the country.

The former vice president spoke in a gymnasium at Southfield's Beech Woods Recreation Center, where the backdrop said, "Protect and build on the Affordable Care Act," referring to the health care reform law championed by former President Barack Obama.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Beech Woods Recreation Center, in Southfield, Mich., Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.

But the former vice president opened his 30-minute speech by criticizing Trump for not strongly condemning white supremacy and the 13 individuals charged last week in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Biden cast a vision for unity, arguing that compromise shouldn't be a dirty word.

Biden said there's not a better governor in the United States than Whitmer and the plans to harm her should "shock the conscience" of every American.

"Hate never goes away. It only hides," Biden said. "It never goes away. And if you give it oxygen, it comes out from under the rocks and grows.

"We need to be clear, from the president on down in this country: There is no place for hate in America" Biden said, adding, “It will not be tolerated."

After the federal and state arrests, Whitmer held an Oct. 8 press conference where she criticized Trump for failing to condemn in strong enough terms hate groups. Whitmer referenced Trump's comments at the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 when he told the Proud Boys group to "stand back and stand by." She argued it was an example of Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacists and hate groups, "like these two militia groups."

"Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action," said the Democratic governor, who is also a co-chair of Biden's presidential campaign. "When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”

Trump responded later that night on social media by saying Whitmer had called him a white supremacist instead of thanking him for federal authorities who filed the kidnapping plot against her. 

"I do not tolerate any extreme violence," Trump tweeted. "Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!"

Biden's visit to the battleground of Michigan occurred a day before Trump will be in Muskegon on Saturday and 18 days before the Nov. 3 election. The Republican won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally.

On Friday, however, Biden countered that Trump's past calls to "liberate Michigan" from COVID-19 restrictions were a "dog whistle."

The Southfield speech marked Biden's third visit to Michigan since the beginning of September. He stopped in Detroit and Warren on Sept. 9 and spoke in Grand Rapids on Oct. 2.

Health care has become one of the top issues in the presidential race as Trump's administration backs a lawsuit that's asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The federal law, put in place under Obama, expanded health care coverage to millions of people nationally and barred insurance companies from denying coverage from people with preexisting conditions.

If Trump gets his way, 20 million Americans will lose their health care coverage, Biden said Friday.

The former vice president says he wants to protect the Affordable Care Act, increase the value of tax credits to lower premiums and give people the option to purchase a public health insurance plan. Both U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Whitmer, a co-chairwoman of Biden's campaign, touted his efforts to expand coverage.

During a stop in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence contended that Biden's plans would amount to a "government takeover" of health care. The public option would send America on a path to "socialized medicine," Pence said.

Conservative critics have argued that creating a public option eventually would result in the federal government tilting the playing field toward government health plans that compete with private health plans and paving the way for a single-payer or totally government-funded health care system. 

The Trump administration, Pence said, has worked to lower the cost of prescription drugs and expand access to life-saving medicine.

"We are going to have health care that protects preexisting conditions and lowers the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government," the Republican vice president said.

Chris Gustafson, a spokesman for Trump's campaign, said the president's plan would lower costs and provide more flexibility for Michigan residents. The Biden would plan "would hike taxes by $3.4 trillion," he said.

But Trump's campaign hasn't been specific about how it would accomplish some of its goals if the Affordable Care Act were struck down by the Supreme Court — something Democrats have emphasized.

About 70 people were in the gymnasium Friday for Biden's Southfield speech. The event was not open to the public, and those who attended sat in chairs that were spaced out with white circles on the ground around them.

Among those in the crowd was Andrea Pietrowsky of Grosse Pointe and her son, Sam, 9, who was acknowledged by Biden.

"I liked it a lot," Sam said of Biden's speech.

Biden repeatedly praised Peters, who is in a competitive race with Republican John James, a Farmington Hills businessman. Friday was the first time this fall the Democratic incumbent was able to attend one of Biden's events in Michigan.

"He always shows up for Michigan," Biden said of Peters.

His speech was wide-ranging. He called for investments in electric vehicles and criticized Trump for downplaying COVID-19. The country hasn't "turned the corner" when it comes to the pandemic, he said.

"It’s not disappearing. In fact, it’s on the rise again," Biden said.

Later Friday at the old State Fairgrounds in Detroit, Biden’s second event of the day was lined with scores of cars watching the stage or large screens waiting for the man supporters hope is the next president.

After a bevy of speakers from Whitmer to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan praised his accomplishments and pressed for the vote, a masked-up Biden came out in the 53-degree chill to first greet one of the three classic cars — a green Corvette — that surrounded the stage where he would speak.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden checks out a classic Corvette as he arrives to speak at the old State Fairgrounds in Detroit on Friday.

The former vice president introduced himself as “Joe Biden, and I’m a car guy."

“I’ve always believed in Detroit” in part, Biden said, because his dad was an “automobile man.”

“Folks, as my coach used to say, it’s go time. This is the most important election of our lifetime,” he said to the constant honking of horns. “You can make all the difference here in Michigan. The choice is as clear as ever and the stakes are higher than ever.”

“Michigan matters,” Biden continued at the end of his speech.

“You elected me and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 — you bet on us, then we bet on you. We bet on American workers. We bet on the UAW. Now I’m asking for your trust and support in 2020 with Kamala Harris. We will always have your back. So please, vote and help get out the vote.”

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the old State Fairgrounds in Detroit.

Lisa Baumbick, 52, of Novi, came with her friend to attend Biden's Detroit rally, declaring “I think I am that vote that everyone wants: the suburban housewife.”

Biden and vice presidential candidate Harris "are integrity. They are honesty," said Baumbick, who added that she and friend Diane Smith of Novi are “reformed Republicans” who did not support former Obama’s two election victories.

Baumbick called Biden “incredibly educated” on the issues, especially after watching his Thursday town hall.

Smith, 59, of Novi, said Biden “is really good for an ex-Republican because he’s a moderate.”

Detroit is Michigan's largest city, located in the state's largest county, Wayne County, a Democratic stronghold. However, in 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton received 76,000 fewer voters than Obama did four years earlier.

Southfield is located in Oakland County, a key battleground this fall that's been trending against Republicans.

cmauger@detroitnews.com