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Pence in Waterford calls for 'straight answer' on Supreme Court from Biden

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Waterford Township — Vice President Mike Pence called Thursday on Democrat Joe Biden to give a "straight answer" on whether he'll expand the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan ahead of a 9 p.m. debate between Biden and President Donald Trump.

Speaking at a rally at Barnstormers near the Oakland County International Airport, Pence repeated his argument that an effort, floated by some Democrats, to add seats to the nine-member court and appoint liberal justices would be the biggest power grab in American history. Biden has said he's not a fan of "court packing" but hasn't given a definitive answer on whether he would support such a move.

"I mean, come on man," Pence said. "The American people deserve a straight answer, Joe.”

On a rainy day, hundreds of people were gathered outside an airport hangar in Oakland County for Pence's speech as the Trump campaign focused on a suburban area of the state that Democrats contend is trending in their favor. 

The Republican vice president's visit came 12 days before Election Day. Pence spoke for about an hour, touting economic achievements and saying voters were choosing between freedom and a path to socialism.

But he also focused on the Supreme Court, predicting that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the conservative appeals court judge whom Trump nominated to fill deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat, would join the high court next week.

Pence referenced a video clip released Thursday from "60 Minutes" in which Biden said altering the court system was a "live ball" and he planned to establish a commission to examine potential reforms.

The vice president said Biden is going to "pack the court."

"I was born in the morning but not yesterday morning," Pence said at one point.

Pence's speech in Oakland County was one of growing list of events by Trump campaign representatives in Michigan. Trump held a rally in Muskegon on Saturday, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke at events in Southfield and Detroit last Friday.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally against Democrat Hillary Clinton. 

Over the weekend, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said it's the Republicans who should provide answers on "court packing."

Perez noted that Senate Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama's nomination in Merrick Garland in 2016, contending that the nomination should be decided by the election. The Senate Republicans are now advancing Barrett less than two weeks before Election Day.

"When I think about packing the court, that's packing the court," Perez said. "That's rank hypocrisy. They don't trust the voters. That's what they're saying here."

Oakland County is Michigan's second largest county and among the suburban counties that Democrats believe will help Biden on Nov. 3. Former GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, a moderate, won the county by 13 percentage points in his 2014 re-election bid. Two years later, Trump lost the county by 8 points to Democrat Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer won it by 17 points.

At one point during his Thursday speech Thursday, Pence said it was great to be in Pontiac. The crowd quickly corrected him, saying he was actually in Waterford Township.

"We’re not far from Pontiac," Pence said.

At a Democratic event before Pence's stop Thursday, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said enthusiasm in the county among voters is higher than it was in 2016.

"They didn’t want to vote for him," Lawrence of Trump in 2016. "But they just didn’t want to vote for Hillary either. I’m not seeing that this time. I’m a lot more optimistic and hopeful that we have a winning ticket."

In Metro Detroit, which has about half of Michigan's population including the crucial battleground counties of Macomb and Oakland, Biden led Trump by 25 points, 57% to 32% in a Sept. 30-Oct. 3 poll from The Detroit News and WDIV-TV.

The poll, which had an overall margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points, showed Biden to have a 9-point lead statewide. Metro Detroit had a smaller sample of voters, so the margin of error there was higher.

While Democrats are seeing signs for optimism in Oakland County, Chris Crynick, 48, of Waterford, said he's witnessing heavy support for Trump in his neighborhood. Crynick is an auto worker in Southeast Michigan and said there are many Trump supporters inside his plant.

"I think a lot of secret supporters are going to come out and support him,” Crynick said of the Nov. 3 election, referring to polling that has shown the president behind Biden. 

Crynick said the No. 1 issue for him is the economy. Michigan's unemployment rate was down to 3.6% in February before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Thursday, Rocky Raczkowski, chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party, called the county "ground zero" for the presidential race in Michigan and plugged a potential visit by Trump.

"I think we may see the big guy, and I’m not talking about Joe Biden, in Oakland County," the chairman said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com