Of all the stops on President Joe Biden’s tour to promote the newly signed infrastructure law, there might be none where he will have more fun than he did Wednesday in Detroit.
Biden got to take a new GMC Hummer EV out for a spin as part of the effort to promote funding for American-made electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure to support their deployment.
“This is three times as heavy as my Corvette,” the president said as he wrapped up a test drive. “Three times as fast.”
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., was among those there to catch the moment as the president finished his drive, engaging in a bit of an impromptu interview with Biden.
“I’m a car girl. The president of the United States is a car guy,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said at the grand opening ceremony for the Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant, which was the reason for Biden’s trip. “You should have seen him. He’s never happier than when he’s behind the wheel of anything. But he loved the Hummer today.”
Dingell, a longtime General Motors executive before her election to Congress, spoke of past visits to this specific factory as she celebrated its new chapter as an electric vehicle plant. Those visits dated back to 1985, and when company CEO Mary Barra was the manager.
Barra and other members of the GM leadership team spoke ahead of the president Wednesday, as did leaders of the United Auto Workers.
Biden highlighted the effort to upgrade the federal fleet of cars and trucks to new electric vehicles, as well as efforts to deploy charging stations.
“With this infrastructure law, along with my Build Back Better plan, we’re going to kick-start new batteries, materials and parts production and recycling,” he said. “Boosting the manufacturing of clean vehicles, with new loans and new tax credits, creating new purchase incentives for consumers to buy American-made, union-made clean vehicles like the electric Hummer.”
As he did in New Hampshire the day before, Biden highlighted the leadership of the Democratic lawmakers in the Michigan congressional delegation, most of whom were in attendance.
In a statement ahead of the visit, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., highlighted the provisions to modernize fleet vehicles.
“Under [Biden’s] leadership, we passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill into law to expand on electric vehicle manufacturing — especially for school buses — build out the national network of electric charging infrastructure, create good-paying jobs — including union jobs — and invest in Michigan’s future. I will keep working in the Senate to electrify the federal fleet and help middle class families save money on the purchase price of electric vehicles,” Peters said.
Wednesday’s event came amid a debate back on Capitol Hill over a proposed tax credit incentive of up to $7,500 for buying electric vehicles as part of the reconciliation bill being debated in the House this week.
At issue in Washington — though certainly not at a UAW-GM plant in Michigan — is the fact that, as drafted, credits would increase by an additional $4,500 if the vehicle’s final assembly takes place at a U.S. facility operating under a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement.
Biden gave Kildee and Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow credit for that bonus credit proposal.
The union-specific incentive is contentious in places where there are nonunion facilities operated by foreign-based automakers. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., whose support is necessary to advance the larger reconciliation package, expressed opposition to that provision recently while visiting a Toyota facility in his home state.
“Let me be clear, yes, we want that rebate to be used for vehicles made in America. Yes, we want you to receive a bonus if it’s made by the workers who built the middle class of our country, the UAW,” Stabenow said Wednesday, before criticizing Toyota by name.
“It takes a lot of nerve for an auto company based in Japan, where they make it almost impossible for us to sell to them in Japan, where they receive government funding and consumer rebates in Japan, where they have a union there, of course, in Japan, in fact everywhere except in America, by the way, where they fight tooth and nail against Americans who try to organize,” Stabenow said.
Massachusetts Rep. Richard E. Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said earlier this week that there was a chance for a compromise to grant the bonus credit for any electric vehicles assembled in the U.S., not just those at facilities operating subject to collective bargaining agreements.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher was asked Wednesday by reporters traveling to Detroit on Air Force One about the concerns over the preference for union jobs.
“A big part of the president’s climate strategy is about jobs, and he believes that you can do both. You can move forward in pushing an economy that will think about the impact on climate, while also producing jobs and creating good-paying union jobs to make those electric vehicles, to make those EV plug-ins around the country,” Meagher said.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.