How Trump and Biden Compare on Key Michigan Issues

Trump vs. Biden is this fall’s main event. Here’s your election breakdown.
biden trump michigan issues
Photograph of President Trump by David T. Foster III/POOL via ZUMA Wire; Photograph of Democratic nominee Joe Biden by Austin McAfee/ZUMA Wire

If these were ordinary, non-COVID times, Michigan would be witnessing a relentless parade of campaign visits from Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence, Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and their respective spouses, children, celebrity friends — whatever, as the White House hopefuls vie for the swing state’s potentially decisive 16 electoral votes. But these aren’t ordinary times. So brace yourselves, Michiganders, for a barrage of TV, mail, and online advertising. It promises to get nasty — and it often may feel like the candidates aren’t even addressing the things that matter to us. As you prepare to fill out your ballots (and probably mail them in long before Nov. 3), we’ve laid out where Trump and Biden stand on five key Michigan issues. 

Auto Bailout 

Trump – Because Trump has often been harshly critical of the auto industry for moving jobs overseas, there is an impression fostered by his political opponents — notably Hillary Clinton in 2016 — that he opposed the 2008 government bailout loans to GM and Chrysler. In fact, in 2008 he supported it in verbiage that would later become extremely familiar: “You have to save the car industry in this country. General Motors can be great again. Ford can be great again. And Chrysler could be great.” Trump did suggest at other times that he would have  been OK with either the bailouts or a more free-market bankruptcy scenario.

Biden – The former vice president touts the bailouts as a crowning economic achievement of the Obama-Biden tenure. In 2011, he told Car & Driver: “Had we not forced the car companies to reorganize, then given them help, well, the failure of the suppliers then could have caused Ford to fail as well. So this has exceeded everyone’s expectations.” What’s more, Bloomberg News reports that Biden was perhaps the most ardent supporter of the bailouts inside the administration, prevailing over opponents who included Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and its chairwoman, Christina Romer.

PFAs 

Trump – Trump’s EPA issued a “PFAS Action Plan” in early 2019 promising a national standard for ridding groundwater of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS), the so-called “forever chemicals.” Yet so far there’s been little action. In January, Trump threatened to veto Rep. Debbie Dingell’s bill to set a national standard for drinking
water and require federally funded cleanups. “The regulatory process works best when EPA [is] free to devise regulations based on the best available science and careful consideration of all the relevant facts,” Trump’s EPA said in a statement
.

Biden – Biden hasn’t spoken much about PFAS specifically — he’s talked more generally about pollution and other environmental topics — but his campaign website lists a set of promises regarding the issue as part of his environmental justice and anti-climate change agenda. He says he will designate PFAS as a hazardous substance, create “enforceable limits” under the Safe Drinking Water Act, demand the military and other government agencies seek out substitute chemicals, and fund more study into PFAS’ toxicity.

Unions

Trump – Trump loves rank-and-file union members, whom he cozies up to as the working-stiff bloc of MAGA Nation. And he often surrounds himself with police unions to signal support for what he calls his “law and order” agenda. Yet as a candidate in 2016, he backed “right-to-work,” the idea that workers should not be forced to pay union dues. And he frequently attacks union leaders, tweeting that they “rip-off their membership with ridiculously high dues, medical and other expenses while being paid a fortune.” He issued a memo this year calling for the abolition of federal workers’ bargaining rights, although that hasn’t occurred.

Biden – Lunch-bucket Joe has long cultivated a working-class image and, on brand, launched his 2020 campaign at a Pittsburgh union hall. He supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would penalize companies that impede worker efforts to unionize, and wants to repeal a law that has allowed states to impose “right-to-work” policies. Still, some union workers are skeptical, since he declined requests from Wisconsin teachers’ unions to appear at 2011 rallies against efforts to curb their bargaining power. Also, his first 2020 fundraiser was co-hosted by a lawyer whose firm specializes in anti-union litigation.

Trade

Trump – Trump roared into office with a vendetta against almost every major trade accord, but he had special enmity for the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which he said enabled the outsourcing of millions of jobs and depressed U.S. wages. Early this year, he achieved perhaps his most important legislative feat, the ratification of a replacement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. Both Democratic senators from Michigan and all but nine Democratic House members voted for it, saying it’s fairer and more enforceable. Trump also launched a tariff war with China that shows no sign of letting up.

Biden – As a senator, Biden supported NAFTA and the permanent normalization of trade relations with China. In December, he announced his support for the USMCA after labor leaders blessed it as an improvement. In 2019, under pressure from more liberal primary opponents, Biden said he would not rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty that Trump dumped.  It’s unclear what Biden would do on the Chinese tariffs; he said on an NPR podcast in August that he would lift them because he views them as taxes on consumers that have hurt American manufacturers and farmers. An aide later told reporters Biden would “reevaluate” them if he takes office.

Gretchen Whitmer

Trump – The Whitmer-Trump saga started out cordial, but blew apart at the onset of the pandemic when he didn’t take kindly to her pleas for federal help. Trump told Fox News in March he had “a big problem with the young, a woman governor from — you know who I’m talking about — from Michigan.” Then, at a press briefing, he said he had told Vice President Pence not to call “the woman in Michigan” because she’d been insufficiently appreciative. He dubbed her “Half-Whitmer” on Twitter and said she was “in over her head.”

Biden – Whitmer was already a national co-chair of Biden 2020 when Trump’s fusillade began, but their connection has deepened. She was one of the first guests on Biden’s podcast, where he said of her COVID-19 leadership that she’s “doing it as well as anybody can do it.” That conversation and the strategic importance of Michigan for November led to months of speculation about Whitmer as a potential running mate. Now that Sen. Kamala Harris is on the ticket, the chatter has moved on to the prospect that Whitmer might land a Cabinet post.

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