© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden joins striking members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) on the picket line outside the GM’s Willow Run Distribution Center, in Belleville, Wayne County, Michigan, U.S., September 26, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File
By Nandita Bose, Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON/MICHIGAN (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will visit autoworkers in Michigan on Thursday, where he is likely to face protests over his handling of the war in Gaza, after several leaders of the state’s Arab-American community declined to meet his campaign team last week.
Biden’s travel to the election battleground state was intended as a celebration after the United Auto Workers (UAW) union recently endorsed his reelection bid. But his trip may be overshadowed by opposition from the state’s Arab-American and Muslim population, which is upset the president has not called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict.
The Biden campaign has kept details of the president’s visit private in the face of expected protests.
Biden attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington before heading to Michigan, and said he was working to resolve the Israel-Hamas conflict, including a two-state solution for Palestinians and bringing home the hostages still held following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.
“We are actively working for peace,” he told those gathered.
In the Detroit area, Biden will meet with UAW President Shawn Fain, who last week gave a full-throated endorsement of the Democratic incumbent and a sharp rebuke of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
Trump blasted Fain afterward, and on Wednesday met with the Teamsters, one of America’s biggest unions representing truck drivers, airline pilots and others, as he competes for their backing ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election.
The auto industry and its labor movement are deeply intertwined with politics and elections in Michigan.
In 2016, Trump earned a level of support from union members that no Republican had reached since Ronald Reagan in 1980, helping him narrowly capture the critical states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Biden rebounded with unions in 2020, with a roughly 16-percentage point advantage as he reclaimed those so-called Rust Belt states, which have been scarred by decades of job losses as companies embraced lower-cost, often non-union locations. He won Michigan in 2020 by some 154,000 votes.
Arab Americans account for 5% of the vote in Michigan and Biden’s margin of victory over Trump was less than 3 percentage points in 2020. An October poll showed Biden’s support among Arab Americans had plunged to 17% from 59% in 2020.
However, Biden’s campaign believes that his support from union workers could overcome any drop in support from the Arab-American community. A Biden campaign official said the UAW’s endorsement will mean more in November in Michigan than the anger among Muslim voters in the state.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer warned on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Biden could face demonstrators during his trip. Multiple pro-Palestinian groups and individuals, including Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans and anti-war organizations have pledged to protest his visit.
On Wednesday, more than 100 people participated in a rally at a local high school in Dearborn, many wearing traditional Palestinian scarves known as keffiyehs and holding signs that said “Abandon Biden.”