Joe Biden, the self-proclaimed “most pro-union” US president, on Wednesday won the endorsement of the United Auto Workers union as he intensifies his re-election bid, after the group withheld its support for months.
But the support of the Michigan-based union — which has more than 400,000 active members and millions in political spending — wasn’t won without courting the president as his campaign says he is going “full steam ahead” toward a potential rematch against Donald Trump.
“I’m proud you have my back,” Biden said at the UAW convention in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday after union President Sean Fine officially endorsed him. “Let’s just say, I’m honored to have your back and you have mine — that’s the deal.”
The UAW, which supported Democrats in the previous presidential election, has been holding out in part because of some concerns among members about what Biden’s electric vehicle policies could mean for their jobs.
On Wednesday, Fein appeared to be trying to allay his members’ concerns.
“Technological progress does not necessarily mean closing factories or leaving remaining workers working harder than before,” Fine said. “We must be masters of technology, not allow it to control us and force us to work more and for less.”
Later on Wednesday, Biden upheld the administration’s waiver to allow electric vehicle chargers to be manufactured using foreign components if final assembly takes place in the United States.
Jonathan Hanson, a lecturer at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, told ABC News that having “vocal union leadership” embracing the Biden EV campaign could help prevent swing members from again voting for Trump.
“To the extent that union leadership is able to craft a message that they are on board with this shift, because they got assurances from the president, that could dilute the force of those attacks that will come from Trump,” Hanson said.
Biden has taken other big, even historic, steps to support unionized workers — who have historically been a key constituency for Democrats who turned to Trump in 2016, helping elect him to the White House.
The president always expects to get such endorsements, a person familiar with Biden’s thinking told ABC News of his work to win the UAW.
Biden in September became the first modern president to join a picket line when he traveled to Detroit to publicly support UAW members during their strike against America’s three largest automakers.
“People, stick with it because you deserve the big raise you need and other benefits,” Biden, wearing a UAW baseball cap and speaking into a megaphone, told strikers at the time.
He later traveled to Illinois to deliver remarks to an audience of UAW workers and praise them for making and securing a deal.
It was never likely that the UAW, which supported Biden in 2020, would flip and support Trump. Fine, the union’s president, was vocal in his harsh criticism of the former president.
In his speech on Wednesday, Fine called Trump a “scab” and said he “did nothing” during the UAW strike against General Motors in 2019, when he was president, “because he doesn’t care about the American worker.” “
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Fine’s criticism, but Trump has previously attacked Biden’s union record as “bullshit” and said he is focused on protecting American auto workers, including from electric vehicle policies.
Fine, despite his apparent distaste for Trump, had said last year that the group’s endorsement should be earned — raising questions about whether Biden would secure it.
“I really think they were flexing their muscles,” Hanson, the public policy expert, told ABC News of the UAW’s delay. “They knew Biden needed this endorsement. They knew the race was close.”
In addition to being based in a critical swing state that helped decide the 2016 and 2020 elections, the UAW has extensive resources.
The union and its local chapters have joined voting advocacy efforts in the past — such as phone banking and door-knocking — and according to OpenSecrets tracking, its political group has spent more than $14 million campaigning. Related expenses in 2020
“We said we would stand with those who stood with us in our fight, not because someone was nice to us and we want to be nice to them, but because we need to know who will do that,” Fein told his members on Wednesday. Surrender and who will be silent?
Biden has relied heavily on union support during his long career, including during his 2020 run, when he regained some of the Rust Belt worker support that Democrats lost in 2016.
Polls in 2016 showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faltering with unionized workers in Ohio and Michigan. Trump beat her on both.
In 2020, Biden narrowly won Michigan and two other Rust Belt states, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that Trump had won four years earlier — and which formed the so-called “blue wall” of Democrats in the Midwest.
The Biden-Trump standoff over unionized workers came to a head when Biden joined the picket line last September.
The next day, across town, Trump spoke about the strike at a rally.
Trump’s team criticized Biden’s visit as a “PR stunt,” while Biden’s campaign criticized Trump for holding his event in a non-union store. (Many UAW attendees at the Trump event were not on strike.)
In his statements on Wednesday, Fine criticized Trump’s stop in the Detroit area.
“He went to a non-union factory, at the invitation of his boss, and destroyed our union,” Fein said of Trump. “That’s right. And that’s what Joe Biden did during our strike: He heard the call, he stood up, and he showed up.”
“Perhaps what was most important to Biden was not only the support from the union, but the profound attack that the union president, Sean Fine, launched on Donald Trump,” Hanson said.
When Biden accepted the UAW’s endorsement on Wednesday, he also criticized Trump for “attacking unions” and “leaving too many Americans behind,” and said Americans had “lost their sense of pride” during the Trump administration because jobs were moving offshore.
That tone was no coincidence: The Biden campaign told reporters on Wednesday that they were putting their full focus and energy into challenging Trump, announcing the start of their general election campaign even as Trump still faces challengers in his race for the Republican nomination.
“It’s all set now,” said Quentin Foulkes, Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager. “We are full steam ahead ahead of the general election.”
In other signs that the campaign is positioning itself for the general, Biden is moving two of his senior advisers, Mike Donilon and Jen O’Malley Dillon, who ran his 2020 campaign, from the White House to his reelection team.
“Simply put, Trump’s party is divided and is now about to face the only politician to ever defeat him and who did so with more votes than any presidential candidate in history: President Joe Biden,” Fox told reporters.
He said that while the primary race shows Trump remains dominant among the GOP base, there are signs that he is “struggling to make himself palatable” to some key constituencies, such as independents and college graduates, who will help decide the race in November. .
When reporters asked about live polls indicating that the contest between Biden and Trump would be a close race, with Trump leading in some polls, Cedric Richmond, the campaign’s co-chair, tried to ignore the numbers while asserting: “We’re going to go running like we’re behind,” before adding “Will we win? Absolutely.”
But Biden has faced a steady decline in approval ratings for months, with many Americans dissatisfied with his handling of issues such as the economy and immigration.
He has angered some young Americans and Arab Americans in particular with his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas, as evidenced by protests Tuesday at a campaign rally in Virginia.
“I believe what I saw [Tuesday] “He was a president who understood and respected Americans’ basic First Amendment rights to peacefully protest,” communications director Michael Tyler told ABC News’ White House correspondent Selina Wang on Wednesday. “I think that’s in stark contrast to Donald Trump and Republicans who don’t do that,” he added. “They seem to understand the same thing, who just want to use these situations to fan the flames and further divide people.”
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com