President Joe Biden heads to Illinois on Thursday looking to gin up momentum for his reelection effort as multiple political headwinds converge in a solidly Democratic state.
Biden will seek to convince voters his economic agenda is benefiting Americans despite lackluster marks in recent polls over his handling of the economy. Illinois is also becoming a key spot for another thorny issue for the president – border security – as concerns over mass migration have spilled into interior cities with an influx of new arrivals.
The visit comes on the heels of a strong showing for Democrats during Tuesday’s election, which injected fresh confidence among campaign officials about next year’s election following a spate of troubling polls.
But while the president is firmly supported by top union leaders and quickly received endorsements from some of the biggest unions upon announcing his reelection run, the United Auto Workers – which was in a standoff with the Big Three automakers until historic deals were recently reached – has yet to endorse him in his 2024 run.
The president will meet with UAW President Shawn Fain while he’s in Illinois. They’ll meet at the site of one of the plants closed by Stellantis, an auto company that had built Jeeps there until it was closed at the end of February. The company agreed to reopen the plant following UAW negotiations to settle its strike.
The economy is set to be a prominent issue heading into next year’s election, with 66% of registered voters saying it will be extremely important to their vote next year, according to the latest CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Around half say immigration is an important issue.
The administration is trying to tackle both – fanning out across the country to sell the economic agenda and working behind the scenes to quell concerns among allies, including city and state officials in Illinois, over crossings at the US-Mexico border.
In recent months, the political pressure over the migrant crisis drew in Gov. JB Pritzker, a major political ally of the president who has been one of the most active boosters of Biden’s reelection campaign.
It’s also bubbled up in Chicago, which will host next year’s Democratic convention – an event that people involved already believe will make the city a magnet for even more migrants to be sent by Republican governors.
Senior White House officials have been in regular discussion with Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and their staff about the growing number of migrants arriving to the state, many of whom have been sent via buses by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The meetings are often focused on what officials are learning about the migrant population and their needs, according to a senior administration official. The administration has mobilized federal agencies to help with housing and education.
“We’re acutely aware that while we’re all trying to solve a problem. Gov. Abbott wants to weaponize a problem,” the senior administration official said.
On Thursday, the administration – in collaboration with Illinois and Chicago – will launch a one-stop-shop work authorization clinic to help asylum seekers obtain work permits. The result, officials hope, is that it will help migrant get on their feet and obtain jobs as well as decompress the shelter system.
“We don’t want to waste any time. That period of time between finishing (an asylum) application and four weeks from now that you’ll get work authorization, there’s productive things a person can be doing during that period,” the senior administration official told CNN.
A White House spokesperson maintained that the administration is committed to supporting local jurisdictions receiving migrants and cited Biden’s supplemental funding request submitted to Congress that includes grant funding for communities.
Last fiscal year, the administration provided the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois with more than $46 million in grant funding to help with migrant arrivals, the spokesperson added.
Pritzker, meanwhile, remains a top ally for the White House. Biden and the campaign tapped Pritzker, among other high-profile surrogates, to highlight the contrast between the president and Republicans around the Wednesday GOP debate. He’ll also join Biden on Thursday.
On Thursday, Biden will deliver remarks “to highlight his commitment to delivering for working families and creating good-paying union jobs, as well as the UAW’s historic agreement that includes bringing thousands of UAW jobs back to Belvidere and reopening a plant,” a White House official told CNN.
The reopening of the Belvidere assembly plant, according to a White House official, was “a key result of the historic contract between the UAW and the Big Three – and it is the latest example of the President’s economic agenda facilitating wins for workers and communities across the country.”
Biden has long been a proponent of organized labor, describing himself as the most “pro-union” president ever and it’s a theme that features heavily in his reelection effort as the White House works to extol the benefits of Bidenomics and woo unions that have yet to endorse him.
When asked by reporters on Thursday about a potential endorsement, he said, “They’re going to be fine.”
The UAW, which backed Biden in 2020, has yet to say whether they will endorse him again next year, saying their members still need to see more from the president before lending him their support. The UAW has more than 400,000 members.
“(Biden’s) rhetoric of being a pro-union president is being challenged and successfully pushed by Shawn Fain,” said Faiz Shakir, the executive director of More Perfect Union, which liaised between the UAW and the White House, adding that Fain “politically compelled” the president and his administration to take actions to earn the union’s support.
In September, Biden made history as the first sitting president in modern history to join workers on a picket line when he visited striking autoworkers in Wayne County, Michigan. At the time, he told UAW members that they deserved a “significant raise.”
“You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you get paid now,” Biden said at the time.
Though Fain has been critical of Biden – especially for his administration’s financial support of a transition by the auto industry from traditional gasoline powered cars to electric vehicles, which the UAW sees as a threat to its members’ jobs – he offered praise for the president’s decision to break norms by joining the strike.
Fain has also been openly critical of former President Donald Trump, especially after Trump opted to hold an event at a non-union manufacturing facility in Michigan just one day after Biden’s visit to the picket line.
“I see no point in meeting with [Trump] because I don’t think the man has any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for. He’s the billionaire class and that’s what’s wrong with our country,” Fain said at the time.