Watch: President Biden speaks to UAW members in Warren amid protests for Palestine

President Joe Biden spoke to United Auto Workers members in Warren after meeting with union leaders Thursday - even though the Metro Detroit reception wasn't entirely welcoming.

Biden spoke at the Element Warren facility while a large group of pro-Palestine demonstrators chanted and marched outside due to the president's support for Israel during its war with Hamas. Some police in riot gear were also present as they attempted to wrangle the large crowd, which stayed peaceful.

Biden to UAW members: "Supporting you's the easiest thing I've ever done"

Inside, Biden spoke about his support for the UAW - and the feeling is mutual with the UAW President Shawn Fain's endorsement last week. Biden credited the UAW with their endorsement and support helping him win the 2020 election as well.

"Supporting you's the easiest thing I've ever done," Biden said. "I was raised on GM - my dad managed a dealership, didn't own it, managed it.  You know, that old expression in that little town I grew up in Delaware called Claymont, Delware, you all are the ones that brung me to the dance - and I never left you.

"To me, it's a basic basic thing. Wall Street, didn't build the middle class, labor built the middle class And the middle class built the country. And when labor does well, everybody does well."

Biden singled out Fain during his comments.

"The whole country owes you, and I'll tell you a guy I owe, this guy named Shawn (Fain)," Biden said. "He gets it."

Biden said the biggest reason why unions are growing and that the economy is growing is because UAW members are the "best workers in the world."

The president spoke of the economy including claims that inflation is "going down" despite evidence to the contrary - as inflation is up 17 percent in the last three years.

He also included a dig at critics who praised China's economic gains over America's.

"Remember they told us we're dead manufacturing is dead in America. China is gonna eat our lunch," he said. "Well guess what, man? We don't taste that good."

Pro-Palestine demonstrators gather outside, protest Biden

A large pro-Palestine contingent chanted outside with refrains including "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," "Free Palestine," and "F-ck Joe Biden." Large signs were also present, including a four-paneled electronic screen configuration that included messages like "Abandon Biden" and "Genocide Joe." 

"We don’t support Joe Biden. Joe Biden is a war criminal. He’s participating in a genocide," said Abdul Bari, a protester. "The United States war machine has supplied the weapons that are killing thousands of people and Genocide Joe, as we call him here, has refused to call for a cease fire, and we’re here to tell him he’s not welcome in Detroit. Go someplace else."

The protest stayed peaceful while a large police presence including riot squad members kept a watchful eye. 

Pro-Palestine demonstrators gather outside the Element Warren facility on Thursday, Feb. 1 to protest President Joe Biden as he meets with UAW members. 

"I’m pleading with every single American – force Biden, force (U.S. Sec. of State Antony) Blinken, force (U.S. Sec. Def. Lloyd) Austin – these are war criminals. Tell them to stop the genocide right now!" another protester said.

The Democratic president’s Michigan schedule did not include meetings with Arab Americans, adding to increasing frustration within a key voting bloc over his support of Israel in its war with Hamas.

Some members of Biden's contingent had planned to meet last week with Dearborn city leaders but officials called off the scheduled discussions due to their displeasure with the administration.

"Why not have a meaningful conversation for how you change course with a community that has first-hand accounts of what it’s like to live in the countries where your decision-making is unfolding?" said Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of Dearborn, one of the largest Arab American communities in the nation.

Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, led a group of campaign advisers to the Dearborn area last week as part of her ongoing effort to meet with core supporter groups around the country. She spoke with some community leaders, but the trip ended abruptly when Arab American leaders declined to show up for a meeting with her.

Hammoud was one of the leaders to decline to visit with Chavez Rodriguez, calling it "dehumanizing" to focus on the upcoming election when people in his community are losing family members in the war in Gaza. The community is interested in meeting with "decision makers," Hammoud said, and that should "have nothing to do with what’s happening this November."

Michigan has shifted increasingly Democratic in recent years, with the party controlling all levels of state government for the first time in four decades. Biden is looking to build on that power as he seeks reelection and the state’s critical 15 electoral votes.

His visit to Michigan comes ahead of the state’s Feb. 27 primary. The president faces no serious challenge in the primary, but his campaign is trying to build energy for the far tougher fight to come in the fall. Michigan was part of the so-called blue wall of three states — with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — that Biden returned to the Democratic column when he won the White House in 2020.

Now, there are concerns within the party over rising tension between Biden and Arab Americans in the state, even as he seeks to capitalize on his support among union members.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a longtime Biden ally, said Democrats need to tend to a multitude of constituencies in Michigan to hold on to the state in 2024.

"Michigan is a purple state. I say that to everybody," she said. "Clearly, the Arab American community matters. But young people have to turn out. They were very decisive two years ago in voter turnout. A lot of the union leadership has endorsed the president, but we’ve got to get into the union halls and do the contrast so people really understand what it’s about. And we’ve got to make sure women and independents turn out. You know, we’re a competitive state."

"Eventually we will find out and we will make sure to give him a proper reception," said Khalid Turaani, co-chair of the Abandon Biden campaign in Michigan.

Biden and his aides have said they do not want to see any civilians die in Hamas-ruled Gaza, and the U.S. is working to negotiate another ceasefire to allow critical aid to reach the territory.

President Joe Biden greets Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after arriving.

President Joe Biden greets Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after arriving.

Concerns about Biden’s handling of the Gaza situation extend beyond the Detroit area. Across the state, Grand Rapids resident Maryte Worm said that better than Biden visiting Arab communities in Michigan would be for him to focus on ending the war.

"I don’t know how we can move on without a ceasefire," she said.

A December AP-NORC poll found that 59% percent of Democrats approve of Biden’s approach to the conflict, up from 50% in November. But Democratic voters in New Hampshire’s primary were roughly split on how Biden has handled the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to AP VoteCast.


Dearborn mayor cancels Biden campaign manager meeting over Israel support

Along with several Arab-American leaders, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud refused to meet with Joe Biden's campaign manager over the president's stance in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Democratic state Sen. Jeremy Moss, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber who also represents one of the largest Jewish communities in the state, said that when it comes down to Trump versus Biden again, he doesn’t see Michigan voters going back to the Republican.

"Is the situation precarious now? Sure. There’s no question about it," he said. "But we’re coming really close to that binary choice. It will be Trump and it will be Biden. And I have to have faith in so many people who, number one, don’t want it to be Donald Trump again. And number two, are going to acknowledge Joe Biden’s achievements over the last year."

--The Associated Press contributed to this report.