Biden leans into manufacturing in campaign-style Michigan speech

BAY CITY, Mich. — An exultant Joe Biden sounded every bit like a president hungering for another term, imploring Americans in a speech Tuesday to buy into his vision of a nation making dramatic economic strides against global competition.

“We’re building a better America,” Biden said at a plant that makes components for electric vehicles. “We just have to keep it going! I know we can.”

Biden vowed in his half-hour remarks that the U.S. would expand its manufacturing capacity to levels preventing the sorts of supply-side disruptions that led to shortages of vital products early on during the Covid pandemic. He suggested that China and Europe aren’t necessarily happy about America’s economic ambitions, but he indicated he’s determined to supplant their role as vital links in the worldwide supply chain.

“We’ve proven it’s never, ever been a good bet to bet against America,” Biden said at SK Siltron CSS’ gleaming new plant before an appreciative crowd of union workers, elected officials and political supporters. “I mean it.” 

Biden was speaking about the nation, but he might just as well have been talking about himself. Two years ago, anyone betting against Biden’s political prospects would have lost. He upended conventional thinking when he rallied after early defeats in the 2020 Democratic primaries and then went on to win the nomination and oust President Donald Trump. Just this month, Biden’s party defied history in the midterm elections by keeping control of the Senate and staving off heavy losses in the House.

Still, Biden has been guarded about his own political future, saying he intends to run for re-election in 2024 while stopping short of a definitive announcement.

Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat who represents the district that’s home to the SK Siltron CSS plant and preceded Biden onstage, said in an interview Tuesday that he doesn’t know Biden’s plans for the next election. Asked whether he wants Biden to run, Kildee said: “It’s going to be up to him.

“If he decides to run, obviously we’ll support him,” he added. “These are personal decisions before they’re political ones.” 

Biden was introduced by Kildee and another Democrat who figured prominently in the party’s midterm success story: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Both Whitmer and Kildee defeated Republican challengers. 

In the interview, Kildee said Biden’s focus on creating jobs is a winning message that Democrats should carry into 2024.

“I ran on the agenda that President Biden and I and others promoted — and I won in a Republican-leaning district by more than 10 points,” said Kildee, whose congressional race was one of the most competitive in the country. “So I think that Michigan is well-positioned to show the rest of the country that when you lean in, have great candidates and policies that make sense, we will be rewarded for it.” 

As a backdrop for the speech, Biden chose a plant that symbolizes the kind of high-tech manufacturing jobs he wants to create. Earlier this year, SK Siltron CSS opened a facility here — about 100 miles northwest of Detroit — as part of a $300 million expansion project. The plant employs about 220 people, and the company expects the number to grow to 300 in the coming years, a spokesman said. 

Biden touts his industrial policy as a reason for his optimism about U.S. economic prospects. In August, he signed into law the CHIPS and Science measure, which sets aside more than $52 billion for semiconductor manufacturing and research. As a condition, recipients of the money are barred from building “certain facilities in China and other countries of concern,” the White House said.

But the credit Biden has given himself may be overstated. U.S. employment in the manufacturing sector has been declining since the late 1970s, in part because of the outsourcing of jobs to countries that pay much lower wages.

Biden has said more than 700,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since he took office. A PolitiFact report, however, says that the uptick was evident under Biden’s predecessor and that, in part, it was a product of Trump administration policies. 

Biden’s visit Tuesday dovetailed neatly with the Democrats’ political ambitions. The plant is in Bay County, which Trump won in both 2016 and 2020. Before the 2016 election, the last Republican presidential candidate to win the county was Ronald Reagan, in his landslide re-election in 1984. 

Democrats would like to flip the county in 2024, when Michigan will, as ever, loom as a crucial battleground state. A step toward making that happen is to show voters that government policies are helping create jobs, local party officials said.

“Bay County was traditionally a very dependable Democratic county, and that changed when Trump came into being,” said Karen Tighe, the county Democratic chairwoman. “We’re hoping that President Biden’s visit might entice people to come back to the fold and recognize what his administration is doing for us economically.”

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