Biden blasts Trump for rolling back fuel standards, says future of autos is electric

·8 min read

Without mentioning his predecessor's name, President Joe Biden criticized former President Donald Trump while visiting a Ford Motor Co. plant in Dearborn on Tuesday, saying Trump's rollback of fuel standards delayed an inevitable move to electric vehicles.

Biden, visiting southeastern Michigan for the first time as president ahead of Ford's unveiling of its all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup on Wednesday, also said Trump let key tax credits to encourage electric vehicle sales expire and never came through with a much-promised plan to fund improvements to roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

"(They) didn’t do a damn thing," he said of Trump's administration. "They didn’t get the job done."

While president, Trump had moved to reduce or freeze targets to force automakers to increase fuel efficiency, setting off a legal fight with California and other states. With Biden signaling his administration will put gas mileage goals back in place, electric vehicles sales are expected to be a key part of automakers hitting those goals in the future.

Biden also has called for $174 billion to be included in his own infrastructure bill to go toward helping to install some 500,000 charging stations nationwide and encouraging manufacturers and consumers to adopt electric vehicles. That said, some Republicans are wary of the plans and incentives, with electric vehicles so far making up only a small portion of the cars on U.S. highways.

Speaking before Biden, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford called the unveiling of the new F-150 — America's bestselling vehicle — "a defining moment" in the history of both the company and the U.S. as it battles climate change. "It ushers in a cleaner future for our country," Ford said.

He also told Biden, who introduced himself at the event as "a car guy," "I promise you it’s going to give your Corvette a run for its money."

In his 25-minute speech, Biden said it's not only vital for the U.S. to adopt electric vehicles as a way to cut greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change but to ensure that those vehicles are made in America by union workers. UAW President Rory Gamble was among those speaking ahead of Biden, who has made no bones about his advocacy for union jobs being connected to the fight against climate change.

But Biden noted that much of the battery technology and associated supply chains vital to electric cars is controlled by Chinese companies, a circumstance he said must change or American manufacturers — and workers — will lose out.

"Right now, China is leading in this race," he said. "It's a fact. ... We can't let that be sustained. ... They think they're going to win. Well, I've got news for them. They will not win this race. We won't let them."

Biden noted the Senate voted Monday to proceed on legislation intended to combat China's ambitions and potentially invigorate American investments in semiconductors, a worldwide shortage of which has recently crippled the auto industry. He also pointed out efforts to ensure that American-made products are used in government contracts; Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, are pushing for legislation that would make it harder for government agencies to skirt that requirement.

Dozens of state and local officials and community leaders turned out for the visit, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who got a shout-out from the president, state Attorney General Dana Nessel and Democratic members of the state's U.S. House delegation. Biden was introduced by Angela Powell, a forklift operator for Ford and a UAW member.

The crowd also included Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Dearborn Mayor John O'Reilly Jr., Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, former Gov. Jim Blanchard and the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of Detroit's NAACP, among many others.

Speaking from a lectern before more than a dozen current and classic Ford vehicles, including the F-150 and the Bronco, Biden — whose father managed car dealerships in Delaware — said he'd had a chance to see the new truck and that he'd "sure like to drive it."

Ford gave him the chance and he took it on a quick spin.

"This sucker’s quick,” he told a reporter as he drove by with the window down.

Biden meets with Tlaib, Dingell on landing in Michigan

Biden landed at Detroit Metro Airport on Air Force One shortly before noon and was met by Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, who spent some time talking to the president about the violence in the Middle East, before Biden and they went to Ford's Dearborn plant.

Tlaib is the only Palestinian American in Congress and has been among those sharply criticizing Israel for the rocket attacks and other violence involving Palestinians in Gaza and parts of Israel.

President Joe Biden speaks with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., left, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, as he arrives at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., left, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, as he arrives at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

Tlaib's grandmother lives in the West Bank, which is controlled by Israel, and in introductory remarks to his speech, when he was noting who was in attendance, Biden mentioned Tlaib and said he hoped her family in the Middle East was safe.

"I promise I'll do everything I can to make sure they are," he said. "I admire your intellect. ... I admire your compassion," Biden said to her.

Dearborn, where Ford's electric facility is located, is also home to one of the largest Arab American communities in the U.S., and criticism of Israel is running high.

Tlaib's office confirmed they spoke about the situation in the Middle East and that she told him "Palestinian human rights are not a bargaining chip and must be protected, not negotiated."

Biden has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he supports a cease-fire but critics of Israel's actions say the U.S. should be doing more to protect the rights of Palestinians, who are bearing the brunt of the violence. In a letter sent to Biden, Imad Hamad, executive director of the American Human Rights Council in Dearborn, asked the president to "act swiftly, fairly and justly to end the human suffering that the Israeli war on Gaza is imposing on its population. ... The goal of the Israeli war is to harm the (Palestinian) population and terrorize it. This is an illegal and immoral war."

There were several protests in Dearborn around Biden's visit and his administration's continued support for Israel. Biden has made clear that he believes Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks and other violent acts from Hamas, the group that controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S.

That said, the Biden administration said it is trying to find a resolution to the current outbreak of violence. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Wednesday morning that much of the discussions going on to end the violence were happening — and would continue to happen — outside of public view. "Sometimes diplomacy has to happen behind the scenes," she said.

Knowing that the Arab American community in Dearborn was angry, a senior adviser of Biden's, former U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., held a call with community leaders on Monday night.

More: Joe Biden in Dearborn live updates: Protests expected outside President's speech

Electrifying Ford truck series an important signal

Electrifying Ford's F-series of trucks is a big deal, given that they're the bestselling vehicles in the country, and could be a game-changer in terms of getting the public to buy into — and buy — electric vehicles, which still make up a small percentage of vehicles on the roads in the U.S.

Ford's big reveal is scheduled to be livestreamed from the company's world headquarters in Dearborn at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Biden's visit, which was encouraged by Dingell, among others, was timed to underscore the importance of the new F-150 and push for passage of Biden's infrastructure bill

Ford Motor Company installed an enormous projection screen on the exterior of Ford World Headquarters facing Michigan Avenue in Dearborn in preparation for the global debut of the all-electric F-150 debuting on May 19, 2021. This image was taken on May 14, 2021.
Ford Motor Company installed an enormous projection screen on the exterior of Ford World Headquarters facing Michigan Avenue in Dearborn in preparation for the global debut of the all-electric F-150 debuting on May 19, 2021. This image was taken on May 14, 2021.

On Tuesday morning, the White House put out a fact sheet reiterating that the infrastructure bill, which faces an uncertain path in the Senate, makes investments to encourage electric vehicle adoption.

Members of Biden's administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, also were headed to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to discuss Republican counterproposals. Environmental groups, meanwhile, were pushing to make sure the administration keeps its proposed investment in electric vehicles, especially at a time when the International Energy Agency is saying in a new report that if the world is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the switch to electric vehicles being the only ones sold in the years to come is key.

"The future of the (auto) industry is electric. Everyone will tell you that," Psaki said. "That's where the jobs are and that's where the future of the auto industry is."

Some of those coming to the plant with Biden want to make sure Michigan remains a central player in the automotive future, especially with batteries becoming such a key component and much of the supply chains that feed that industry spread around the world and around the country.

"I'm going to push him to prioritize Michigan jobs," said U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills. "This (change to electric vehicles) is not a light switch. This is not going to happen overnight. ... There are steps we can take now that won’t lead to a slow bleed of jobs."

People gather for a press conference at the American Moslem Society Mosque in Dearborn ahead of a visit to Dearborn by president Joe Biden on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Dearborn is the home of the largest Arab and Muslim American community in the U.S. and leaders gathered to address what they said is a failure by the Biden Administration to address war crimes and other human rights violations by Israel amidst the ongoing Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
People gather for a press conference at the American Moslem Society Mosque in Dearborn ahead of a visit to Dearborn by president Joe Biden on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Dearborn is the home of the largest Arab and Muslim American community in the U.S. and leaders gathered to address what they said is a failure by the Biden Administration to address war crimes and other human rights violations by Israel amidst the ongoing Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Contact Todd Spangler: tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler. Staff writers Phoebe Wall Howard, Niraj Warikoo and Miriam Marini contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Biden visits Ford, criticizes Trump for delaying electric vehicles