President Joe Biden visits Ford electric vehicle plant in Michigan

DETROIT — President Joe Biden made a visit to the Detroit area on Tuesday to push the future of electric vehicles.

Air Force One was met by Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, who spent some time talking to the president before Biden left to meet with Ford Motor officials.

Tlaib is the only Palestinian-American in the Congress and has been among those criticizing Israel for the rocket attacks and other violence involving Palestinians in Gaza and others parts of Israel. It wasn't immediately known what Tlaib and the president spoke about.

Biden wasn't in metro Detroit to talk about the situation in the Middle East but with Dearborn having one of the largest Arab American populations in the U.S., it was certain to color the event at least somewhat. Several protests about the Biden administration's continued support of Israel were scheduled.

Biden is visiting Ford Motor Co.'s electric vehicle plant in Dearborn ahead of Wednesday's big reveal of the all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck. "My name is Joe Biden, and I'm a car guy," was the president's opening line at the factory. He quickly played to the crowd, noting, "the UAW elected me," when he first got to the Senate.

He then addressed Tlaib: “I admire your concern for so many other people. And it's my from my heart, I pray that your grand-mom and family are well -- I promise I’m going to do everything to see that they are in the West Bank."

Here's what else you need to know about his visit:

  • Expect Biden to make note of the fact that it will be UAW workers building the new F-150. Biden has been a more vocal advocate for union workers than any recent president.

  • He will likely bring up that his administration is pushing a huge infrastructure bill that also calls for billions to begin building half a million charging stations across the U.S. and provide incentives to electric vehicle manufacturers and drivers.

  • Electrifying Ford's F-series of trucks is a big deal, given that they're the best- selling 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.

Electric vehicles and Biden's infrastructure plan

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. It also reminds people that, as of now, other nations, especially China, are leading the world race to embrace electric cars and trucks.

Members of Biden's administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, were headed to Capitol Hill to discuss Republican counterproposals. Environmental groups, meanwhile, were pushing to make sure the administration keeps its $174 billion proposed investment in electric vehicles, even though some Republican lawmakers, particularly those in the U.S. House, have suggested it's asking too much given the paucity of the number of electric cars on the roads now.

Future of cars 'is electric'

But the International Energy Agency is also 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," press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during the flight to Michigan. "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."

Related: Arab Americans plan to protest Biden's visit to Dearborn amid tensions over Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Protests over Israeli-Hamas conflict planned

Tuesday's visit by the president won't be entirely about motor vehicles, however. Dearborn is one of the largest Arab-American population centers in the U.S. and a protest is scheduled at the Dearborn Police Station at 1 p.m. against Biden's support of Israel in the wake of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians that has killed more than 200 people.

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.

Who's who: Key players in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and why peace remains elusive in Gaza

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."

Biden and others, however, have made clear that they believe 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.

Psaki said much of the discussions going on to end the violence are happening — and will 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 is angry, a senior adviser of Biden's, former U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, held a call with community leaders on Monday night.

Contact Todd Spangler at Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler. Staff writer Niraj Warikoo contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Joe Biden visits Ford plant in Michigan to promote electric vehicles