President Joe Biden called for the U.S. to become the world leader in electric vehicle production during a trip Tuesday outside of Detroit, doubling down on a component of his $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure package that Republicans have opposed in negotiations.
Biden toured Ford Motor Co.’s electric vehicle plant in Dearborn, Michigan, as Ford debuted its all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck, showcasing a facility he’s leaning on to push the U.S. past China in electric vehicles.
It came as Biden and Republicans in Congress remain at odds over what should be included in a bipartisan infrastructure package. A $568 billion counteroffer from Senate Republicans would stick to roads, bridges, ports, airports and broadband infrastructure – leaving out more ambitious elements backed by Biden such as investments in electric vehicles, home caregiving and technology to combat climate change.
“The future of the auto industry is electric. There’s no turning back,” Biden said in a speech calling for the U.S. to “move fast” to catch up. “The real question is whether we’ll lead or we’ll fall behind in the race to the future – whether we’ll build these cars and the batteries that go in them here in the United States or rely on other countries.”
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Biden spoke in front of a blue banner with the slogan, “A future made in America.” He said the rest of the world is “not waiting” as he called for government, industry and labor to “step up” to accelerate the pace of production.
U.S. sales of plug-in electric vehicles are one-third that of China, and while China has 800,000 public charging locations, the U.S. has only 100,000.
Biden’s American Jobs Plan would pump $174 billion into electric vehicle expansion, including $15 billion to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations nationwide by 2030.
“Right now China is leading this race,” Biden said. “Make no bones about it. It’s a fact.”
“They think they’re going to win,” he added, “but I’ve got news for them, they won’t win this race. We can’t let them. We have to move fast, and that’s what you’re doing here.”
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Biden’s plan also sets aside $25 billion to electrify city buses, $20 billion to convert 20% of the country’s school buses to electric and $15 billion to boost the Energy Department’s research and development of advanced batteries, semiconductors and other electric vehicle technology.
The jobs plan seeks to replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles with electric versions; convert federal fleets, including Postal Service trucks, to electric; provide incentives to encourage the sale and purchase of electric vehicles; and offer tax credits to jump-start electric vehicle manufacturing.
After his remarks, the White House motorcade made an unscheduled stop at a Ford testing facility, where Biden test-drove one of the new Ford electric trucks. The president floored the gas pedal.
“This sucker’s quick,” he said as he whizzed by reporters.
While Biden delivered his pitch in Michigan, senior White House officials including Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, met with six Republican lawmakers to discuss the next GOP counter-proposal. The group was led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. The White House contingent also included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
Biden said he expects Republicans to propose another counteroffer by Wednesday. The White House said it was “encouraged” by the latest talks.
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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have drawn a line in negotiations, calling Biden’s proposal to raise corporate taxes to pay for the spending a “non-starter” and offering support for only traditional physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and broadband.
In a meeting last week between legislative leaders and the president, electric vehicles “emerged as something (Republicans) might not be too fond of,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine – often a swing vote on major legislation – pressed Buttigieg during a Senate committee last month why the administration’s package proposes more for electric vehicles than the $157 billion in combined dollars for other transportation infrastructure, including roads.
“It’s certainly appropriate to look ahead and to accommodate future and cleaner modes of transportation,” Collins said. “But what the administration is doing is spending billions more on subsidies related to electric vehicles than on the roads and bridges on which they will travel.”
Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House doesn’t expect Tuesday’s round of negotiations to be the “end of the discussion” and that more conversations will follow.
“Certainly, the president’s trip to Michigan will be on the top of mind of officials from our end,” Psaki said.
In a related electric vehicle push, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a bill Tuesday to require all cars on U.S. roads to produce no carbon emissions. The Clean Cars for America legislation would set a deadline a decade earlier than the International Energy Agency.
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Republicans and other critics of electric vehicles have warned the transition will lead to cuts in manufacturing jobs – a narrative the White House has worked to counter. Psaki said Biden sees his role to “look to see where job creation can be for the future and not just rest on the laurels of the past.”
During Biden’s tour of the Ford facility, a Ford employee and United Auto Workers union member showed off a charging station network to the president. “I’ll be damned,” Biden said as he watched a video detailing how Ford’s manufacturing technology operates.
“You should be able to get in an electric vehicle and drive across the country without having to worry,” Biden said, touting the federal government’s role to make that a possibility by building a network of charging stations.
“We’re in an inflection point in America,” Biden said. “We’re either going to move and take over this area or we’re going to be left behind.”
Ledyard King of USA TODAY and Todd Spangler of the Detroit Free Press contributed reporting.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.