Vice President Mike Pence made a trip through Southeast Michigan Wednesday morning, touring the Dearborn Ford auto plant before appearing after a panel of auto industry executives in Taylor to advocate for a new North American trade deal.
Pence’s remarks hit familiar notes, lavishly praising President Donald Trump and lauding the country’s low unemployment rates and rising wages. He said the “hardworking Americans on the assembly line” would benefit from the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Trump’s proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“The president and I know we have got to level the playing field for the American autoworker … by prioritizing trade deals that put America first,” Pence said to applause from the audience of mostly auto industry professionals at Motor City Solutions, an automotive and engineering company in Taylor.
Prior to his speech, Pence spoke at a Romulus event for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, which was not open to the media.
In his opening remarks, he emphasized that “manufacturing is roaring back” and cited a litany of positive economic indicators from the growing numbers of jobs added to polls showing industry optimism.
“President Trump made it a priority to ensure that companies … create jobs right here in the U.S.A.,” Pence said, adding that the “time has come for Congress to pass the largest trade deal in American history” in the USMCA.
Pence told reporters that the deal “needs to be passed this year.”
The vice president pointed to recent projects in Michigan from Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford, saying they represented “investment in Michigan and investment in America.”
Both Ford and GM also have had some significant layoffs, for which Trump has berated the companies. But Pence didn’t mention that at the event.
Executives from the “Big Three” auto manufacturers, as well as other industry leaders spoke before Pence as part of a conversation moderated by Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce President Sandy Baruah.
The auto industry panelists unanimously called for the quick passage of the USMCA through Congress, with Ford Vice President of Global Powertrain and Purchasing Lisa Drake emphasizing the need to “move on in a complicated business.”
Don Walker, CEO of Canadian auto supplier Magna International, said that he was “happy to see governments realize we need to be competitive through NAFTA” and that it was important that auto companies trust their investment in North American manufacturing can be profitable above all else.
One roadblock to that profitability in most automakers’ eyes, however, is the raft of steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump and his economic advisers have levied in an attempt to block Chinese materials from the market.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed how those tariffs are hurting Michigan with Trump at a White House meeting in February.
Scott Thiele, Fiat Chrysler’s NAFTA purchasing chief, called the tariffs “disruptive” and said he hoped they would be dropped as part of a potential USMCA agreement. Ford’s Drake echoed that sentiment, saying that the tariffs are “not working” for the auto industry but that there’s “still an opportunity” to mend fences with its unhappy steel buyers.
Pence did not acknowledge that anxiety in his speech, only emphasizing the administration’s desire to pass USMCA as quickly as possible in order to remedy the “disadvantage” at which the Trump administration claims the country is placed under NAFTA’s comparatively more unfettered approach to free trade.
He told reporters after the speech that the president’s tariffs “protect vital industries in this country” and that the president would take automakers’ concerns about them “under consideration once we address the inequities that have existed under NAFTA.”
Pence’s remarks came a month after Trump kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign in Grand Rapids with a rally in March at Van Andel Arena, where the president said, “We are bringing a lot of those car companies back. … They are pouring back in [to the United States].”
The Associated Press later pointed out that this was not true, noting that the only new opening currently planned by the Big Three auto companies is the re-opening of a Fiat Chrysler engine plant in Detroit.
Michigan’s 16 electoral votes were a crucial element of Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential campaign. His re-election effort is clearly focused on repeating wins in Upper Midwest states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where some believe approval of his pro-manufacturing rhetoric carried him over the finish line.
Pence didn’t brag about that victory explicitly in his speech as his co-executive tends to do, but stressed traditional pro-business Republican economic policies. The former Indiana governor told attendees to “get out and talk to people” about the country’s economic progress.
Trump’s potential Democratic opponents have flocked to Michigan over the last few months, as well, with March stops from primary candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).
Michigan’s Republican Party has voiced its full support for Trump’s re-election, with state GOP chairwoman Laura Cox telling reporters after her election in February that “Michigan is his pathway to victory and we want to make sure we deliver here in Michigan.”
Republican National Committee Deputy Press Secretary Michael Joyce echoed that sentiment in an official statement, saying that “Michiganders have a lot to celebrate around the Trump-Pence agenda” and that “the USMCA will only further advance Michigan’s economy.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes harshly criticized the administration’s economic approach, saying in a statement: “Mike Pence should take a hard look at the Michigan communities he’s visiting today because if he and Donald Trump had been in charge during the Great Recession instead of [former President] Barack Obama, places like Taylor and Dearborn would have been devastated.”
She added that the Trump administration was “taking credit for the achievements of the Obama Administration.”
Trump’s next scheduled campaign event is April 27 in Green Bay, Wisc.