Standing in front of a rack of copper and PVC pipe outside of a local union training facility, former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a pro-labor economic speech and blasted President Donald Trump for “broken promises” and neglecting Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Folks, this is it. The election’s here. The choice couldn’t be more stark, the stakes couldn’t be higher ” Biden said from a podium set up outside of the UA Plumbers Local 27 Erie Technology Center, 8150 Hawthorne Drive in Summit Township. “So many Pennsylvanians are facing hard times right now.”
Biden recalled taking an Amtrak train following the first presidential debate in Cleveland Sept. 29. The train made stops in places like Alliance, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Latrobe and Johnstown.
“I heard the same stories I’ve been hearing all over the country,” Biden said. “You’re trying your best, but it never feels like enough. You’re not looking for a handout, you’re just looking for a fair shot. That’s how my dad felt when we had to leave Scranton.”
Biden’s stop in Erie came with just 24 days left before the Nov. 3 election. For the former vice president’s campaign, it marked a sweep of all the battleground state’s media markets — significant in that the party’s 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton, did not stump in places like Erie.
Biden is trying to peel back a previously reliable Democratic state that until Trump had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes could clinch the race for either Biden or Trump, who won here by just 44,000 votes four years ago.
The small event required that every person in attendance wear a mask and adhere to social distancing at all times. Chairs were separated by six feet and placed into circles of white paper rings taped to the blacktop.
Before his speech, Biden toured the training facility and met Union City journeyman plumber Joel Hobson, 33, who talked about the apprenticeship program from which he recently graduated.
“How you doing, man?” Biden said as he nodded at Hobson.
Hobson showed Biden devices that prevented water backflow.
In another room, instructors told Biden about soldering and brazing. Biden told them how critical their work is to the economy.
“Everybody thinks I’m joking," he said. "If every investment banker in New York went on strike, nothing would much change in America. If every plumber decided to stop work, every electrician, the country comes to a halt. I mean literally, not figuratively, literally — comes to a damn halt.”
In his 20-minute speech, Biden accused Trump of “neglect” in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy. He lamented the loss of 11 million jobs that have not returned since the pandemic began, which includes 674,000 manufacturing jobs — 40,000 of which are in Pennsylvania.
Biden said Trump’s trade war with China and “broken promises” have “gutted” farmers across the country, like Lawrence County dairy farmer Rick Telesz, 62, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention and who introduced Biden in Erie Saturday.
“Our farmers, just like our union members and anyone else who does an honest day’s work, see him and his promises for what they are,” Biden said of Trump.
Biden cited a recent report by Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm, that estimated that his Build Back Better plan would create 18.6 million jobs — seven million more than it said Trump’s plan would create.
“That’s not a liberal think tank,” he said of Moody’s.
Biden said his economic plan would not raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 and that he would repeal Trump’s 2017 tax reform law. Trump, he said, has only looked out for the wealthy.
“The fact is the president can only see the world from Park Avenue. I see it from Scranton. I see it from Claymont (Delaware),” he said.
Part of Biden’s economic plan is to invest in renewable energy projects, including a large energy efficiency program impacting 4 million buildings across the country, as well as other investments in infrastructure.
“There’s going to be such a race for job creation you’re not going to believe it,” he said.
Trump, he said, has not delivered on his promise to invest in infrastructure.
“He promised an infrastructure plan in 2016, ‘17, ‘18 and ’19,” Biden said. “He didn’t do a damn thing. Not one single bid. He promised to relieve a Main Street slammed by the recession, but guess where that money went, that Congress passed? It went to the Mar-a-Lago crowd, the wealthy. It didn’t go to small businesses. It didn’t go to the people who needed it.”
The Trump campaign issued a statement shortly after Biden’s speech concluded.
“Joe Biden wants to shut down the country, which would shutter countless businesses at the expense of blue collar Pennsylvanians, and ban fracking, a way of life for 609,000 Keystone State families and workers,” Trump spokeswoman Rachel Lee said. “Meanwhile President Trump built the strongest economy in the world and he is doing it again for Pennsylvanians in Erie and across the state.”
But Biden said repeatedly in his Erie speech, as he did in the first presidential debate and as he has on the campaign trail, that he would under no circumstance prohibit the method of oil and gas drilling.
The United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, which has endorsed Biden, is running a digital ad that corrects "the frequent lies from the Trump campaign on fracking and Joe Biden’s energy stances."
In a statement, United Association President Mark McManus said a Biden presidency would give UA families "a true champion for our jobs, for fair wages, and for our dignity."
"We were proud to give Vice President Biden a first-hand look at what makes UA members the best craftspeople in the world," McManus said.
During his visit, Biden touched on some Erie-specific topics.
He publicly thanked Erie native and former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, the nation’s first secretary of Homeland Security, for his recent endorsement.
“We may not agree on everything,” Biden said of Ridge, “but we agree on this: It’s time to put country before party.”
He also referenced Erie County’s winning bid before the Pennsylvania Board of Education for the state’s 15th community college. Biden would make four-year public college for families making under $125,000 free. He also would provide anyone with two years of free tuition to attend a public community college.
“And when Erie gets the first new community college to open in Pennsylvania in 27 years we’re going to make sure that it’s free for anyone that qualifies to get in,” he said. “That’s a fact. By the way, that costs $6 billion a year. That’s about as much as we give in tax deductions for racehorses.”
Biden ended his speech Saturday by encouraging people to vote early and to make sure that if they are voting by mail in Pennsylvania that they place their ballot in a secrecy envelope and sign the declaration.
“I’m running as a proud Democrat but I’m going to govern as a proud American president,” he said.
Before Biden returned to Delaware Saturday night he placed a special call to an 11-year-old Erie girl, Eleanor Wertz, the daughter of Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Wertz.
"When I met with him this afternoon I told him that she won a debate at school and the topic was 'Why should Joe Biden be the next president of the United States?'" Jim Wertz said about his conversation with Biden. "He was like, 'That's awesome, I'm calling her tonight.' And he set up the call with his assistant."