Joe Biden won a strong pledge of support on Thursday from union autoworkers crucial to his re-election bid in Michigan, while yet more protests over his backing of Israel’s actions in Gaza put pressure on the trip.
The president’s travel to the battleground state was intended as a celebration after the United Auto Workers (UAW) union recently endorsed his re-election bid. But his visit was also met with protests from members of the state’s sizable Arab American community, demanding Biden seek a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war, and refusing to meet his campaign.
Biden visited a UAW union hall in Warren, Michigan, where UAW members plan to work a phone bank on his behalf ahead of the state’s 27 February nominating contest.
He was greeted by the UAW president, Shawn Fain, who last week gave a full-throated endorsement of the Democratic incumbent and a sharp rebuke of the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
As the crowd chanted, “Joe, Joe”, Fain promised Biden: “We’re going to fight like hell” for him to win the November presidential election.
“Wall Street didn’t build the middle class. Labor built the middle class, and the middle class built the country,” Biden said. “When labor does well, everybody does well.”
He later joked: “Besides, you built my ’67 Corvette.”
The campaign kept specific details of Biden’s visit private in the face of expected opposition until just before his arrival.
Ahead of his motorcade, about 100 protesters marched down a street toward the UAW location, chanting “Genocide Joe has got to go” and waving Palestinian flags.
Before heading to Michigan, Biden attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. He said he was working to resolve the Gaza conflict, including a two-state solution for Palestinians and bringing home the hostages still held following Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel.
“We are actively working for peace,” he said at the breakfast.
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Trump on Wednesday met with the Teamsters, one of the US’s biggest unions, representing truck drivers, airline pilots and others, as he competes for their backing.
Ahead of Biden’s visit to the Detroit area, protesters amassed in cars and vans with blue and white “Abandon Biden” signs and Palestinian flags, planning to rush to wherever he appeared.
Arab Americans account for 5% of the vote in Michigan and Biden’s margin of victory over Trump was less than 3 percentage points in 2020.
Reuters contributed reporting