In Detroit, Pence touts Trump admin. economic gains as recession fears rise

By: - August 19, 2019 2:02 pm

Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks at the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit in Washington, D.C. Monday, July 8, 2019. | Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen via Flickr Public Domain

Updated, 6:23 p.m. 8/19/19 with comments from Rep. Levin

Vice President Mike Pence on Monday urged a group of Southeast Michigan business leaders to “reject the siren song of socialism” and reelect his boss, President Donald Trump, to a second term. 

In a 25-minute speech to the Detroit Economic Club — his third appearance before the group — Pence, a former governor and congressman from Indiana, ran through a laundry list of Trump administration economic achievements. The vice president sought to raise alarms that the economic gains would all come crashing down if one of the almost two dozen Democrats seeking the nomination got elected. 

“I honestly believe if any of the Democrats on that debate stage wins the presidency, the gains of the last two-and-a-half years would be wiped out,” Pence said. “Taxes would skyrocket, the stock market would tank, jobs would vanish and we would get that recession these naysayers keep talking about.”

Michigan is widely viewed as a 2020 battleground state and Trump held a reelection campaign event in Grand Rapids in March. Twenty Democrats participated in debates in Detroit last month.

The vice president’s speech on Monday was not an official Trump reelection campaign event. It was rescheduled following the shootings earlier this month in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Pence’s words to the business group on Monday at the Motor City Casino Hotel come amid increasing concern that the U.S. economy is coming to a slowdown and that a recession could be nearing. Three-quarters of U.S. economists now believe there will be a recession by the end of 2021, according to a new survey. 

Pence, however, downplayed those concerns.

Vice President Mike Pence speaking at the Detroit Economic Club, Aug. 19, 2019

“Despite the irresponsible rhetoric of many in the mainstream media, the American economy is strong and the U.S. economic outlook remains strong, as well,” Pence said. 

As the Advance has previously reported, however, major economic sectors in Michigan, such as agriculture, have felt pains recently due to Trump’s ongoing trade war escalation. 

Pence also repeatedly urged Congress to adopt the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), as he did in Michigan back in April. The proposed trade agreement stands as an overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Pence said the USMCA would make for a better deal for Michigan manufacturers, noting that it calls for mandates to manufacture auto parts in the United States.

“We believe that will eliminate the historic incentive to manufacture outside the United States. It will eliminate the incentive to move jobs south of the border,” Pence said. “The USMCA is a huge improvement on NAFTA.”

The proposed USMCA, however, has faced opposition from the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, including from multiple Michigan members like U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.). 

Levin, in particular, has said that the proposed agreement lacks environmental and labor enforcement mechanisms. 

In a Monday evening phone interview with the Advance, Levin said those remain his core concerns and believes the USMCA as written is somewhere in between needing some minor tweaks and a larger overhaul. Constituents in his metro-Detroit, manufacturing-heavy district share his concerns, Levin said.

“The people I respond to are the voters of the 9th District of Michigan and their marching orders to me are very clear: raise our standard of living,” Levin said. “‘Give us good jobs where we can have one job, raise a family and have health care and have a dignified retirement.’ That’s all they want and I’m going to make sure USMCA delivers it, or else I’m not going to be able to support it.”

Pence also touted the ongoing $4.5 billion investment of Fiat-Chrysler Automotive (FCA) in Detroit, although state officials have downplayed any specific involvement by the federal government in the Detroit expansion, which includes $261 million in state incentives.

Pence was introduced on Monday by U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, a Detroit native. During his introduction, Carson touted the “Detroit comeback,” similar to a line frequently used by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder. 

“There was a time of enormous economic uncertainty,” Carson said. “That seems to be going away and people are rolling up their sleeves here in Detroit and all over the country.”

Detroit, however, has a poverty rate of 35%, almost three times higher than the national average, and almost 50% of children live in poverty, according to the University of Michigan Poverty Solutions. 

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.