Home U.S. News Biden Finds Support but Also Protests in Michigan

Biden Finds Support but Also Protests in Michigan

Biden Finds Support but Also Protests in Michigan

President Biden’s visit to Michigan yesterday had all the hallmarks of a vintage Scranton Joe event, as he talked to United Automobile Workers members about his love of cars and affinity for the labor movement.

But if the appearance was a throwback to previous campaigns — and a reminder of his historical appeal to a multiracial bloc of working-class voters — the Michigan trip itself underscored the fresh challenges Biden faces this year.

Michigan is home to many Arab American and Muslim voters, who were once a solid Biden constituency but are now livid about the president’s support of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian groups protested his visit, carrying signs that called for voters to “abandon Biden.” Demonstrators chanted “Genocide Joe” and “How many kids have you killed today?” outside a campaign stop later in the day, my colleague Michael Shear reported.

Some Arab American community leaders, including the mayor of Dearborn, Abdullah Hammoud, recently declined a meeting with Biden’s campaign manager. And a group of activists is planning to encourage Michiganders to vote “uncommitted” in the state’s primaries on Feb. 27.

“If we can demonstrate our political power and discontent through as many uncommitted votes as possible in the Michigan Democratic primaries, then the hope is that Biden would feel more at risk of losing Michigan in the general election,” said Layla Elabed, the campaign manager for the effort, who is a sister of Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. She hopes that would prompt him to “shift his policy to support a cease-fire, at least” and to urge restrictions on military aid to Israel.

Muslims make up only a small percentage of Michigan voters, but their disapproval could spell electoral peril in a crucial swing state that Biden won by fewer than 155,000 votes in 2020. And one poll last year showed Biden’s support among Arab Americans cratering to 17 percent from 59 percent.

Biden is a longtime supporter of Israel who has met every prime minister since Golda Meir, whom he is fond of invoking. After the Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, he surprised even some Jewish Republicans with the force of his support for Israel and its military response, as my colleagues Jonathan Weisman and Lisa Lerer have reported.

But as the civilian death toll has soared in Gaza, the president has faced growing pushback from within his party over his approach. Protesters demanding a cease-fire frequently interrupt his events, as my colleague Astead Herndon captured on “The Run-Up” podcast. There are signs that the issue resonates beyond Arab American voters, especially with Black and younger progressive voters.

And Biden has taken a tougher tone on Israel. He has issued warnings about its conduct in the war and pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state after the war. On Thursday, ahead of his Michigan trip, he ordered sanctions on four Israeli settlers accused of violent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.

“The war in Gaza has been very divisive for our party,” said Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster, “particularly the younger end of our party, for Arab American Democrats.”

Underscoring Biden’s difficult balancing act, some Michigan politicians say that the president has actually energized voters on this issue in heavily Jewish areas.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the support for Biden in that Bloomfield corridor and throughout Oakland County actually grows as a result of his support for the eradication of Hamas, and for the unconditional release of hostages,” said State Senator Jeremy Moss, the chamber’s only Jewish senator, referring to areas around Detroit. “Joe Biden has struck a chord here.”

The campaign is ramping up its organizing efforts in the state, boosted by leaders like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a campaign co-chair, and other key endorsements, including from the powerful U.A.W. union. And senior administration officials are expected to travel to Michigan this month to talk to community leaders in the state about “a range of issues that are important to them and their families, including the conflict in Israel and Gaza,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Thursday.

“We potentially are a powerful force,” said Elabed, who is pressing the “uncommitted” effort. “This is us showing our discontent and returning power back to this community through the ballot box.”

The Constitution requires presidents to be at least 35 years old, to be “natural born” citizens and to have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. That’s it. While some states bar felons from state and local offices, those laws don’t apply to federal ones.

In practice, serving as president from prison would be — obviously — complicated. The combination of a Trump conviction and a Trump electoral victory would bring the country into truly uncharted territory.

Nearly a quarter of Trump’s supporters believe that he should not be the Republican Party’s nominee for president if he is found guilty of a crime. And the Republican National Committee could choose to replace him on the ballot if that happened. There is no modern precedent, but the Constitution doesn’t forbid it.

It’s also unclear what would happen if Trump won the election in November but was convicted before Inauguration Day in January. In theory, Congress could refuse to certify him as the winner. Or he could take office, and the vice president and cabinet members could strip his authority under the 25th Amendment. Or he could sue to be released, arguing that imprisonment prevented him from fulfilling his constitutional obligations. Then it would be up to the courts.

One reader asked whether Trump could pardon himself. When it comes to the federal charges, the answer is maybe: It’s an untested constitutional question, because no president has tried. He cannot pardon himself on the state-level charges he faces in Georgia and New York.

In even considering these questions, “we’re so far removed from anything that’s ever happened,” Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert at the University of California, Berkeley, told me last year. “It’s just guessing.” —Maggie Astor

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