The first question during Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate focused on the United Auto Workers strike against the country’s Big Three automakers.
The candidates directed their criticism at President Biden and the striking union members, with little to no mention of former president Donald Trump — who skipped the debate in favor of making a pitch to working-class Americans. Biden made history Tuesday when he became the first sitting president who has joined a picket line as he attempted to make good on a promise to be “the most pro-union president in history.”
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On the debate stage Wednesday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was asked about his vocal opposition to unions and what he made of Biden’s visit to the picket line.
The senator has condemned the UAW more forcefully than other Republican candidates, saying at a campaign event in Iowa earlier this month that President Ronald Reagan was right for firing striking federal air traffic controllers in 1981.
Asked whether he would also fire the thousands of striking autoworkers, Scott said the president “cannot fire anybody in the private sector,” then pivoted to blaming Biden for the conditions that led to the strike. Biden, he argued, was behind a congressional bill that allotted $86 billion for the union pensions that has not yet been delivered.
“They continue to overpromise yet underdeliver,” Scott said of Democrats. He then pivoted to criticizing union members, saying they are demanding shorter workweeks but more benefits and pay.
“That is simply not going to stand,” Scott said. “We must make sure that we honor the commitments that we make and one of the ways that we do that: Do not overpromise and underdeliver and leave the taxpayers on the hook.”
On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidates have seized on the strike as a potential opportunity to fracture the union vote, a key Democratic bloc, and criticize the Biden administration’s environmental policies that call for producing more electric vehicles.
But the striking workers are primarily demanding higher wages and an end to a tiered wage system — issues that are unrelated to the clean-energy transition policies put forth by the Biden administration.
Still, former vice president Mike Pence argued on the debate stage that Biden’s green policies had caused the strike.
“While the union bosses are talking about class warfare and talking about disparity in wages, I have to tell you, I really believe what’s driving that is Bidenomics has failed,” Pence said. “Joe Biden’s Green New Deal agenda is good for Beijing and bad for Detroit.”
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, meanwhile, doubled down on his criticism of union members, saying that, while he has sympathy for the workers, “victimhood is a choice.”
“You know what, if I was giving advice to those workers? I would say go picket in front of the White House,” he said. “That’s really where the protest needs to be, [against] disastrous economic policies.”
Biden’s camp was quick to respond to Republicans’ allegations Wednesday.
“Before our very eyes, the most extreme slate of presidential candidates in history are embracing a MAGAnomics agenda that would wreck the American economy and devastate working families,” Kevin Munoz, a Biden campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “It’s fitting to watch this same, unpopular trickle-down playbook of more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, shipping jobs overseas, and higher costs for families center stage at the Reagan Library.”