Dems, GOP offer contrast on trade ahead of debates

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and DNC Chair Tom Perez
Dan Kildee and Tom Perez at a Warren press conference, July 30, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Both the Democratic and Republican parties held sparring press conferences just hours apart in Detroit Tuesday morning ahead of the Democratic primary debates, offering a stark contrast on the economic issues they both believe will be crucial to winning the 2020 presidential election.

At the Michigan Carpenters Union Hall in Warren, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) appeared alongside Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Tom Perez to make their case that Donald Trump has left behind the Midwestern voters that delivered him the presidency.

Ronna Romney McDaniel
Ronna Romney McDaniel at a Detroit press conference, July 30, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Meanwhile at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel argued that the only thing standing in the way of a full-blown manufacturing revival is Democratic obstruction of Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

“[U.S. Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) … doesn’t want to put a trade deal on the table and let Donald Trump have a win,” McDaniel told reporters. “That’s it. She knows this is good for Michigan. She knows it’s good for manufacturing.”

That stood in direct contrast to the message Perez brought to electorally crucial Macomb County Tuesday morning, saying Trump has broken the numerous promises he made to Rust Belt manufacturing workers still reeling from the effects of globalization and the Great Recession.

“In October of 2016, [Trump] came right here to Warren, Mich., and promised voters, and I quote, ‘If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant. … You’re going to have jobs again, I promise you that.’ Those aren’t Tom Perez’s words, those are Donald Trump’s words,” Perez said.

“Three years later, the trail of broken promises … in the auto industry is one of many areas where this president has been chronically incompetent.”

The two major parties made clear ahead of Tuesday night’s debates that although they both agree that the upper Midwest is still crucial to holding political power in the United States, they have vastly different ideas of what its voters want.

The 46 electoral votes held by Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania delivered Trump the presidency in 2016, and both parties are betting their approach on trade and the economy will hand them the White House next November.

The Democrats chose to hold their event across the road from Chrysler’s Warren Stamping Plant, which is scheduled to close in August. Kildee criticized Trump’s urging Ohioans in Youngstown in 2017 not to sell their homes, as the president promised that manufacturing jobs would return to the state as a result of his trade policies.

“He made promises, cynical promises … he does not demonstrate any serious commitment to the American people,” Kildee said.

Republicans insist that the ratification of the USMCA, the Trump administration’s proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), is crucial to the success of his trade agenda.

Vice President Mike Pence visited Southeast Michigan earlier this year to urge auto industry leaders to throw their weight behind those efforts, but so far Michigan Democrats have been recalcitrant.

Pence stumps in Michigan for new trade deal, Trump’s re-election

“We’re in the midst of considering … essentially, NAFTA 2.0,” Kildee said. “We’re pushing this president to get serious about ensuring that American workers are not going to have to compete with slave wage labor in Mexico, and as it stands right now we’re getting resistance from the president on that subject.”

Kildee was referring to widespread disagreement between the two parties over labor enforcement provisions in the proposed USMCA, an issue his colleague, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), spoke to the Advance about in May.

Meanwhile, the Republican forum assembled Tuesday, which featured several GOP state lawmakers, echoed the RNC’s national message about the USMCA.

“The USMCA has been passed by the Mexican government and the Canadian government, they’ve both given their thumbs up,” said state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford). “The only thing holding us up right now is the speaker [Pelosi]. We need to stop putting politics before workers.”

GOP forum July 30
Laura Cox, Ronna Romney McDaniel and Terry Bowman at a Detroit press conference, July 30, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Both Democrats and Republicans are devoting significant resources to winning over the so-called Midwestern “blue wall” long before this week’s presidential primary debates.

Every major Democratic candidate has made an appearance in Michigan ahead of this week, and Republicans recently celebrated businessman John James’ announcement that he will challenge freshman U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) in 2020, hoping enthusiasm for his campaign will boost Trump’s chances in the state.

State Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Sterling Heights) said Tuesday that his district would be ready to hear the president’s message.

“I can tell you firsthand that I’ve knocked [on] a lot of doors in that township in those cities, and the one thing that voters care about more than anything else in this world is jobs and economic opportunity,” MacDonald said. “That’s what Donald Trump understands.”

Polls have shown that despite Michigan voters’ general optimism about the economy, they take a dim view of Trump and his political agenda. Recently, a poll conducted on behalf of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce showed that voters overwhelmingly oppose Trump’s proposed border wall and that many consider him the No. 1 problem facing the country.

Democratic leadership has argued that after winning every statewide race across Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2018’s midterm elections, Republicans will have to play defense in 2020, despite their 2016 success.

Kildee and Perez
Dan Kildee and Tom Perez at a Warren press conference, July 30, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Perez, the former U.S. secretary of Labor under Democratic former President Barack Obama, said, “Division and distraction were the playbook during the 2018 cycle for this president, and it failed miserably, because Democrats had message discipline and a unity of purpose.”

“We were talking about healthcare everywhere … we were talking about the issues that keep people up at night, and he was distracted.”

Kildee and Perez spoke just hours after Levin became the first of Michigan’s congressional delegation to endorse in the 2020 primary, throwing his weight behind U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Kildee said he doesn’t currently have an endorsement planned, but that he’ll be evaluating the field to see who in his estimation will be the strongest advocate for Michiganders on both trade and the other kitchen-table issues Democrats hope to win on in 2020.

“My role is to make sure that the issues that are important to Michigan are heard by every one of our candidates,” Kildee said. “I look at our candidates and I see an incredible group of people. … The most important thing for me, representing a community that has really seen a tough time, is looking for somebody to help lead us out of this.”

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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