DETROIT - Vice President Mike Pence visited metro Detroit on Wednesday to drum up support for the trade deal designed to replace NAFTA, heaping praise on the auto industry and calling for help in the effort to push the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement through Congress.
Pence described the auto industry as the "backbone" of manufacturing and touted the Trump administration's efforts to roll back regulations and the "heavy hand" of government.
"We need Michigan to lead. We need the auto industry to lead. We need you to let Congress know that it's time to step forward ... and deliver for the American people," Pence said. "As the American automotive industry prospers, America prospers, and with the USMCA ratified and agreed to between the United States and Canada and Mexico, I promise you the best is yet to come for the automotive industry in Michigan and in America, and we're going to make this country more prosperous than ever before."
Pence also referenced recent U.S. investments by all of the Detroit Three automakers and the importance of the overall auto industry to the economy.
"You make the cars, the trucks, the auto parts that make America run. You're investing in America, and America is growing as a result, and we thank you for that," Pence told the crowd, most of whom were connected with the industry.
Pence gave his remarks at Motor City Solutions in Taylor following a fund-raising lunch in Detroit for President Donald Trump's re-election campaign and after Pence toured Ford's Dearborn Truck plant.
The vice president's call to action highlights the challenges the trade deal faces getting through Congress.
Before Pence took the stage, representatives of Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles as well as several suppliers participated in a panel discussion, urging swift passage of the deal and warning of an "unspeakable" impact on jobs if it should fail.
However, Lisa Drake, vice president of global powertrain and purchasing for Ford, said the industry would like to see tariff issues addressed before the deal is ratified, saying steel and aluminum tariffs benefit foreign competition.
Pence, in answers to reporters' questions after his speech, said the president had used the tariffs to protect "vital industries." The priority, he said, is to pass the deal and the administration would give "due consideration" afterward to the tariffs that have been imposed.
Both the FCA and GM representatives credited the deal as being key to their companies' decisions to announce, collectively, billions of dollars in investments in metro Detroit in recent months.
The fate of the proposed trade deal, which requires congressional approval, however, is uncertain.
"All is predicated at the thing passing, and that's really why you see Pence on the road. It's not a done deal that it will pass," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of the Industry, Labor & Economics Group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "The road to USMCA passage runs through Nancy Pelosi's office."
The issue for House Speaker Pelosi and Democrats in general is the position of key constituents, such as unions. While automakers have generally gotten behind the deal, at least one major union is demanding changes.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a speech earlier this month in British Columbia said the union would oppose the measure if its demands are not met. One issue he mentioned was potential outsourcing, one of the major complaints about the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"It's a repeat of the old NAFTA and fails to stop the hemorrhaging of U.S and Canadian jobs to Mexico. It doesn't prevent corporations like General Motors from closing down plants and hurting workers and communities up and down the supply chain from Ohio to Ontario and beyond," Trumka said in a speech posted on the union's website.
The Detroit-based UAW also withheld support.
"As it stands now, the New NAFTA falls short," the union said in a statement Wednesday. "We need a strong, enforceable and impactful agreement that saves and creates good paying jobs right here at home. We urge the administration to get back to the negotiating table with Canada and Mexico."
Pence, in his comments, insisted that the new trade deal levels the playing field for workers.
Dzizcek said parts of the proposed deal would help bring new areas of the supply chain - those which are not yet at a global scale - to North America, such as advanced content for batteries. However, the immediate effect would be to raise prices and depress sales, and some longer-term effects have not been well analyzed yet.
The Trump administration has said that "the new trade deal would create 76,000 new auto sector jobs in five years."
The Michigan Democratic Party, however, blasted Pence and the Trump administration, issuing a statement on behalf of party Chair Lavora Barnes:
"Mike Pence should take a hard look at the Michigan communities he's visiting today because if he and Donald Trump had been in charge during the Great Recession instead of Barack Obama, places like Taylor and Dearborn would have been devastated. Instead of taking credit for the achievements of the Obama Administration, Pence should explain to Michiganders why he and Donald Trump have spent their time in the White House attacking the interests of the working people they promised to help."
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com