President Biden will travel to Michigan on Tuesday to join a group of striking autoworkers on the picket line, an extraordinary gesture of support to a labor union by a sitting American president.
At first glance, the visit looks like a capstone for a politician who has for decades positioned himself as a champion of the middle class, but other political forces are at play as well. Mr. Biden will join the workers in Wayne County one day before his predecessor and likely 2024 rival, former President Donald J. Trump, is scheduled to visit a nearby county and deliver remarks to current and former union members.
It is the first time this campaign season that the two men, whose political styles are as divergent as their visions for the country, will be competing in real time to present dueling messages to a powerful bloc of voters in a key swing state.
In one corner, Mr. Biden has argued that his clean-energy agenda, including a shift toward electric vehicles, will create new manufacturing jobs, even as companies that make batteries and other electric-vehicle parts resist unionizing their workers.
In another, Mr. Trump has channeled the growing frustration among workers who fear for the future of their jobs. “REMEMBER, HE WANTS TO TAKE YOUR JOBS AWAY AND GIVE THEM TO CHINA AND OTHER FOREIGN COUNTRIES.” Mr. Trump wrote of the president in a social media post on Monday, adding, “I WILL KEEP YOUR JOBS AND MAKE YOU RICH!!!
Officials with both campaigns, of course, have pounced.
“No self-serving photo op can erase Trump’s four years of abandoning union workers and standing with his ultrarich friends,” Ammar Moussa, a spokesman for Mr. Biden’s campaign, said in a statement.
Jason Miller, a senior adviser for Mr. Trump, said the president’s visit shows he is on the defensive.
“This underscores the fact of how perilous Biden’s political footing is: a state that Democrats would have you convinced is safely blue, to talk with a constituency that Democrats would have you convinced are safely in their camp,” Mr. Miller said in an interview.
In the White House, Mr. Biden’s advisers have insisted that his visit has little to nothing to do with his predecessor, though they say Mr. Biden’s appearance is sure to strike a contrast with Mr. Trump’s planned visit to Drake Enterprises in Macomb County.
Michigan is seen as a critical state for Democrats in 2024. While Michigan was one of Mr. Trump’s most surprising victories in 2016, Mr. Biden carried the state in 2020.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden is expected to appear alongside Shawn Fain, the president of the United Auto Workers union, who extended the invitation to the president last week. Mr. Trump has no plans to meet with Mr. Fain, who has publicly criticized the former president’s plans to travel to Michigan.
“We can’t keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don’t have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class,” Mr. Fain said last week.
In May, the U.A.W., which normally supports Democratic presidential candidates, withheld its endorsement of Mr. Biden’s re-election, citing concerns over the electric vehicle transition.
Just a month earlier, the administration had proposed the country’s most ambitious climate regulations, which would ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars are all-electric by 2032, up from just 5.8 percent today.
Presidents are typically expected to be neutral arbiters between striking laborers and the companies they work for. On Monday, however, Mr. Biden told reporters that he firmly stood with the union, which is calling for increased wages, shorter work hours and expanded benefits from three Detroit automakers: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the parent of Chrysler.
“I think the U.A.W. gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile industry was going under,” Mr. Biden said, referring to the 2008 financial crisis, during which autoworkers agreed to contract concessions when several auto companies went bankrupt. “They gave everything from their pensions on, and they saved the automobile industry. I think that now that the industry is roaring back, they should participate in the benefit of that.”
Since the strike began on Sept. 15, Mr. Biden has been calling on companies and workers to reach an agreement that would spare a ripple effect through the economy that could raise auto prices and disrupt supply chains.
“Over generations, autoworkers sacrificed so much to keep the industry alive and strong, especially the economic crisis and the pandemic,” Mr. Biden said the day the strike began. “Workers deserve a fair share of the benefits they helped create.”
Karine Jean-Pierre, the president’s press secretary, declined to say on Monday what provisions Mr. Biden would support in a new contract.
“What we have said over and over again is that we believe there’s an opportunity here for a win-win agreement,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.
Since taking office, Mr. Biden has promised to be “the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history,” as he said in 2021, but his policies have at times run afoul of labor groups. In December, he signed legislation that imposed an agreement between rail companies and workers who had been locked in a bitter dispute. The bill averted a strike that could have upended the economy just before the holiday season, but it also curbed the efforts of workers and advocates who were fighting for provisions like guaranteed time off and paid sick leave.
Other modern presidents have found it difficult to find a middle ground between employers and employees.
In 1952, President Harry S. Truman tried to avert a strike of the United Steelworkers of America by nationalizing the steel industry, only to be met with a lawsuit from steel companies.
Ten years later, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order that gave federal employees the right to collectively bargain, but he warned flight engineers and pilots against striking that same year, telling them that it would be too damaging to the economy.
In 1981, President Reagan fired over 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, undermining a union effort by arguing that federal workers were in violation of an employment oath not to strike against the government. The decision traumatized the labor movement for decades.
Mr. Biden’s trip to Michigan is part of a gantlet of a week for Mr. Biden, who hosted a summit with Pacific island leaders on Monday before starting a three-day sprint across the country this week, beginning in Wayne County, which includes Detroit.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden plans to travel to San Francisco, where he will hold a campaign reception and, on Wednesday, host a meeting with advisers. who develop recommendations on science, technology and innovation policy.
On Thursday, he is set to deliver remarks centered on the state of democracy in Arizona, an appearance that is expected to be an implicit rebuttal to the Republican debate and Mr. Trump’s campaign activities. He will also honor the legacy of John McCain, the longtime Republican senator from Arizona who died of brain cancer in 2018 and who was a frequent foil of Mr. Trump’s.