At Detroit NAACP dinner, Biden says he needs Black voters, hits Trump

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Speaking to a sold-out crowd Sunday night, President Joe Biden addressed thousands attending the marquee dinner event for the largest branch of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, outlining the steps his administration has taken to help Detroit and crediting Black voters for his election in 2020.

And he took special care to criticize former President Donald Trump, who he faces in a rematch this fall.

“The nation… needs all of you,” Biden said. “Because of your vote, it’s the only reason I’m standing here as president of the United States… You’re the reason Donald Trump is the defeated former president and you’re the reason Donald Trump is going to be a loser again.”

Biden delivered the keynote address at the Detroit Branch NAACP’s annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner held at Huntington Place in Detroit and received a lifetime achievement award from the group.

Directly addressing concerns that some have raised about Biden’s age — he’s 81 — he opened the 19-minute speech speech saying, “I don’t feel tired, I feel inspired.” He then launched into his administration’s efforts to improve health care for Black people, close the racial wealth gap, remove lead water pipes and appoint Black judges to the federal bench.

He also said he would, if reelected, press for additional civil rights action, including legislation to improve voting rights enforcement.

In concluding his speech, Biden said that the U.S. hasn’t achieved its founding ideal of equality but that isn’t a reason to stop trying. “We’ve never fully lived up to it, but we’ve never fully walked away from it either,” he said. “But Trump will.”

In a speech that began at 8 p.m. Biden also called Trump “screwy” saying he wants to roll back safety regulations, cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations and cut health care. He also called Trump “unhinged,” saying Trump wants to pardon supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress met to certify Biden’s win on Jan. 6, 2021, and asking the crowd what it thought Trump would have done if Black voters had done so.

“Trump isn’t running to lead America. He’s running for revenge,” Biden said.

While Biden has made preserving democracy a key theme of his campaign, Trump has repeatedly criticized Biden’s handling of the economy. But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer – co-chair of Biden’s reelection campaign – tried to undermine Trump’s attack. “Our economy, people’s paychecks are growing,” Whitmer said before Biden took the stage.

Biden went on to specify the ways his policies have specifically improved Black Americans’ economic well-being. Among the policies Biden championed, he touted efforts to close the racial wealth gap, saying it reached a historic low under his watch. By one measure that’s true. But looking at the dollar amounts separating Black and white Americans’ wealth, the gap has grown, according to a review by a the fact-checking news organization PolitiFact.

The annual event “is the largest sit down dinner of its kind in the world,” according to the branch’s website, and attracted a who’s who of Michigan’s Black leaders, as well as Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Michigan’s two Democratic U.S. senators.

It comes at a time when the Democratic president is trying to shore up support among Black voters and beat back a narrative that his campaign is struggling in swing states, including Michigan. As he took the stage, the crowd chanted “Four more years!”

The last time a Democratic presidential candidate spoke at the event was in 2016 when Hillary Clinton addressed diners before she clinched her party’s nomination that year. Pundits blamed her narrow loss to Trump in Michigan partly on low voter turnout in Detroit.

On Sunday, diners once again made their way to their seats in a vast convention hall, some wearing evening gowns and tuxedos. Outside, they walked past pro-Palestinian demonstrators protesting Biden’s Gaza policies. But once inside, they saw a reminder of other parts of Biden’s first-term legacy. A life-size cardboard cut-out of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson greeted them with the caption “Black women are supreme.” In choosing Jackson, Biden became the first president to nominate a Black woman to the court.

Biden’s trip to Detroit marked his first visit to the city this election year to campaign. Earlier in the day, Biden delivered a commencement address at the Morehouse College, a historically Black liberal arts college for men in Atlanta. While Biden has repeatedly described the upcoming presidential election as a battle to preserve American democracy, he seemed to acknowledge his campaign message might not resonate with the Black male audience he addressed.

“It’s natural to wonder if the democracy you hear about actually works for you,” Biden told the graduates. “What is democracy if Black men are being killed in the street? What is democracy if a trail of broken promises still leave Black communities behind? What is democracy if you have to be ten times better than anyone else to get a fair shot?”

Biden’s appearance in Detroit comes after Vice President Kamala Harris stooped in the city earlier this month to tout the administration’s efforts to close racial economic disparities. The Rev. Wendell Anthony — president of the Detroit Branch NAACP — described the dinner event as another effective way to engage and motivate voters.

Anthony indicated the stakes of the upcoming election couldn’t be higher during a press conference preceding the dinner. “Our very freedom is on the line,” he said. Asked about national polling showing Biden losing ground among Black voters – particularly Black men – Anthony said he expects as November approaches, support for reelecting the president will grow. “You know, it’s like the Lord always comes. He don’t come when you want him, but he comes always on time,” he said.

While the NAACP dinner event drew many Biden supporters, not everyone was certain what they’ll do this fall. La Shumbra Singleton, 49, of Pontiac, who attended the dinner said she hasn’t decided whether she will vote for Biden. “It’s same old, same old,” she said of this year’s election cycle. Asked if she’s frustrated to face another Biden-Trump rematch, she said, “Oh my goodness, yes.” But she said seeing Biden “figure out a better way to handle the foreign policy issues with Palestine and Hamas” would help Biden win her vote. She said she wants to see a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. She also wants to see Biden talk more about student loan debt.  

Meanwhile, Harold Hill, 66, of Southfield — who works in pharmaceutical sales — said he plans to vote for Biden. He said the president’s appearance at the dinner was a sign that he’s not taking Detroit – nor the battleground state of Michigan – for granted. But Biden faces a challenge of turning out Black voters to secure his reelection, Hill said. “They’re not motivated like they were for President Obama. They’re not, because he’s boring,” Hill said of Biden. “Black people don’t like boring. I hate to say it, but they don’t.”

As Biden faces an almost-certain rematch against Trump this fall, his campaign has made outreach to Black voters in Detroit and across Michigan — a key swing state — a focus of his reelection campaign. Black turnout in Detroit — one of the nation’s largest majority-Black cities — and other areas where Black voters are concentrated could sway the election this fall.

In 2016, Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Michigan since 1988. But Biden defeated Trump in the state in 2020. Polls have shown Biden trailing behind Trump in Michigan in a head-to-head matchup.

Contact Clara Hendrickson at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on X, previously called Twitter, @clarajanehen.

Looking for more on Michigan’s elections this year? Check out our voter guide, subscribe to our elections newsletter and always feel free to share your thoughts in a letter to the editor.



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