In his first campaign visit to Michigan as the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden focused on jobs—on his own plans to create them and on Donald Trump’s failures on that front. Biden opened by slamming the “life-and-death betrayal of the American people”—at the same time that Trump was publicly denying the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic, he was privately telling journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately underplaying the threat. But the pandemic isn’t Trump’s only failure, Biden made clear.
“Even before President Trump’s failed response to COVID-19 crashed our economy, his tariff war with China had thrown American manufacturing into a recession—it was already contracting in 2019,” Biden said. “Even before COVID-19, Trump was creating on average 500,000 fewer jobs per year during his first three years in office than in the last three years of the Obama-Biden Administration.”
Speaking in Warren, Michigan, Biden pointed specifically to Trump’s promises on a visit to Warren in the final days of the 2016 campaign, saying: “If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant. You’ll have plants coming into this country. You’re going to have jobs again. You won’t lose one plant. I promise you. I promise you.”
But a GM transmission plant in Warren closed just last year, part of a loss of auto jobs in Michigan that Biden cited as evidence of Trump’s broken promises on jobs. Biden also pointed to an increase in offshoring of manufacturing by federal contractors—and he offered a policy to respond.
Biden is proposing “a tax penalty on companies that offshore jobs and manufacturing to avoid paying U.S. taxes only to sell their goods back to American customers,” a 10% offshoring penalty surcharge that would be added to the top corporate tax rate. To reward companies that do the right thing in addition to punishing those that do the wrong thing, Biden is proposing a 10% “Made in America” tax credit.
”So, if your company revitalizes a closed or closing facility here in the United States—like that transmission plant that closed last year—we’ll take care of 10 percent of the investment,” Biden said. “If you retool your manufacturing facility to make it more competitive—for example, shifting to help build a new fleet of clean American vehicles, made by UAW members—we’ll make that more affordable for you.”
Biden also pledged to “deliver on the promise” of “Buy American” provisions for federal contracting, provisions he said Trump has treated as “a weak suggestion.”
This speech was, as Greg Sargent argued, an assault on Trump's one remaining strength—the fact that many voters falsely believe he has been good for the economy, and a champion of (white) working-class people. If Biden can convince voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that Trump has not just failed to deliver on his promises about manufacturing jobs, but hasn’t even really tried, that would obliterate one of the main angles the Trump campaign is trying to use to mount a comeback. Biden has the truth on his side, and Trump’s failures on COVID-19 may make some voters more willing to listen to that truth.
One thing's for sure, too: I really, really don’t want to hear political reporters again pretending that Trump is truly the candidate speaking about economic anxiety.