Joe Biden speaking at a factory in Manitowoc, Wis.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks to factory workers at the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry Co. in Manitowoc. (Biden campaign web video)

Democratic candidate used Wisconsin visit to say the president “panicked,” leading to 200,000 coronavirus deaths.

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden made a campaign stop at a Manitowoc manufacturing plant Monday, touting his “Build Back Better” plan by repeatedly aligning himself with middle-class, blue-collar workers as opposed to “guys who’ve inherited everything they’ve ever gotten in life and squander it.”

“Guys who think they are better than you,” Biden said in reference to President Donald Trump. “Guys who stiff and stretch and squeeze electricians and plumbers and contractors working on their casinos, and hotels, and golf courses just to put a few more bucks in their pocket.”

Monday’s stop is Biden’s second to Wisconsin, a swing-state that broke its streak by voting for Trump in 2016 by some 23,000 votes. Prior to Trump, the state had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. Former President Barack Obama and Biden won Manitowoc County by seven points in 2008. The county went for Trump by 21 points in 2016. 

“The simple truth is that Donald Trump ran for office saying he would represent the forgotten men and women of this country – and then once in office, he forgot them,” Biden said. “It’s not only that he forgot them, though. The truth is he never respected them.”

Biden used his campaign stop at Manitowoc’s Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry to highlight his “Build Back Better” plan and comment on Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as the country approaches 200,000 virus-related deaths. 

Biden said Trump “panicked” when faced with the public health crisis, largely because he had been “bailed out of any problem he faced” previously in life.

“Then with this crisis, a real crisis that required serious presidential leadership, he just wasn’t up to it,” Biden said. “He froze. He failed to act. He panicked. And America’s paid the worst price of any nation in the world.” 

For decades following World War II, major manufacturers fueled a strong economy in Manitowoc, providing good-paying jobs for many who called the eastern Wisconsin city and the surrounding region home. 

Then, one after another, many of those manufactures, including the city’s largest employers — most notably Mirro Aluminum Co., which shut down in 2003 — closed their doors, leaving workers without jobs, or, in many cases, lower-paying ones. 

Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry has been in operation for 112 years. 

“It was like in a lot of American cities, where global competition meant the loss of those manufacturing jobs,” said Peter Wills, executive director of Progress Lakeshore Inc., the economic development agency for Manitowoc County.

Economic revitalization efforts have been successful in recent years, Wills said, but have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the temporary shutdown of many businesses in March along with a 14 percent unemployment rate. 

Six months later, some of those businesses, especially those in the travel and restaurant sectors, continue to struggle financially, Wills said. But others are rebounding, he said, as evidenced by a recent jobs fair at which employers were seeking workers and offering such inducements as pay bonuses and flexible schedules. 

As in most of Wisconsin, the county unemployment rate has been dropping as more workers return to work. The July unemployment rate in Manitowoc County was 6.3%, below the state’s 7.1% figure. 

“There are certainly some businesses out there that continue to face difficulties,” Wills said. “But on the manufacturing side, it is looking a lot better.”  

Biden told Wisconsin Foundry workers his “Build Back Better” plan would benefit them and other manufacturing companies by stressing that all levels of production would be American made. 

He said his plan for the economy will use the $600 billion dollars in purchasing power that the federal government has every year with American taxpayer dollars to be used on American companies, with American workers, building American products and using American supply chains.

“Building Back Better means firing up our shuttered foundries and forging ahead towards a future that is truly made in America,” Biden said. 

Biden’s economic plan also calls for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It has been $7.25 since 2009. Someone working at that wage 40 hours per week would earn about $15,000 annually.

Biden’s plan also includes measures to address economic conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to creating more jobs to aid economic recovery, his proposal would provide such protections as emergency paid leave for employees and gig economy workers that would cover their salaries, up to $1,400 weekly, and paid COVID-19 testing. 

Higher pay for caregivers and educators also would be part of Biden’s plan, along with funding to make childcare more affordable.

In contrast, President Donald Trump’s economic policy centers on corporate and individual tax cuts, trade protectionism, restriction of immigrants into the United States, deregulation and attempts to repeal the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act. 

Trump and his supporters have held up record gains in the stock market during his presidential tenure as evidence his economic policies work. While large corporations and some others have prospered during Trump’s presidency, others — especially people earning relatively low wages — have struggled as their pay has not kept pace with growing expenses.

“When you look at the world from Park Avenue, you can only see as far as Wall Street,” Biden said.

Biden said in the middle of this pandemic, the billionaires in this country have seen their wealth increase by more than $800 billion dollars. He is proposing a tax plan that would not raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 annually. 

“I’m not looking to punish anyone,” Biden said. “I just think it’s about time the wealthiest Americans and the biggest, most profitable corporations in this country started paying their fair share.”

Julian Emerson contributed to this report.