The tension Biden faces is the result of several factors. In addition to his frequent visits to the White House, Barra played a crucial role in helping the administration develop a national car charging plan. But Biden has also built a decades-long political brand that appeals to blue-collar voters in key states like Michigan and Wisconsin and is keen to solidify that image in order to win re-election.
“Between now and Election Day, he needs to side with workers and consumers,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former member of President Bill Clinton’s climate task force who now works for the Progressive Policy Institute. from the left. “It’s just the politics of our times.”
The White House rejected the idea that Biden’s relationship with Barra would undermine his long-standing support for Labor.
“President Biden is the most pro-union president in history,” White House spokeswoman Robyn Patterson said in a statement. “He knows that the economy grows when the middle class grows, and the middle class grows when there is a strong labor movement. The president sets the tone, policy and priorities of this administration.
Although Biden has so far expressed support for the UAW strikers, he has also remained in contact with auto industry executives. And for good reason. The president has leaned on them to help him deliver on his promise to replace millions of gas-powered cars with electric models by 2030, when he wants half of all car sales to be vehicles electric or plug-in hybrids.
Fewer major industries are as aligned with the White House, and fewer executives are as close to the administration as Barra.
“You changed the whole story, Mary,” Biden said during a November 2021 visit to a GM electric vehicle plant in Detroit.
“You have electrified the entire automobile industry. I’m serious.”
Biden began working closely with Barra before taking office.
Before his election in November 2020, General Motors was part of the Trump administration’s lawsuit against California over its right to exceed federal air pollution standards. The company quickly withdrew from the lawsuit after Biden said he had a “little chat” with Barra.
Within months, GM committed to building an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2035, a rapid timeline that established auto giants had never attempted.
While that relationship helped Biden achieve his environmental and manufacturing policy goals, it also gave Barra access to the highest levels of government.
Barra’s visits to the White House complex are part of GM’s long-standing effort to be “engaged with every administration over our 100-plus years, from both parties,” said GM spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan.
Ginivan added that the company “will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.”
The ties between the White House and General Motors extend beyond Barra and Biden. Barra and Jeff Zients, Biden’s chief of staff, spoke on a call earlier this month with other White House officials, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Jeff Ricchetti, whose brother Steve Ricchetti is an advisor to Biden, is currently lobbying for General Motors. The company has paid his company more than half a million dollars since the start of 2021. Steve Ricchetti himself also lobbied for General Motors between 2001 and 2008, a few years before becoming an advisor to Vice President Biden at the time, then chief of staff. . Both lobbied the Senate for GM while Biden was a senator from Delaware, according to disclosure records.
Most recently, a member of the Biden family got a new position at General Motors. Missy Owens, the president’s niece, joined the company in February 2022 and is now director of global sustainability policy. According to The Detroit News, she would work under GM Vice President David Strickland, a veteran of the Obama administration who headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Ginivan, the GM spokesman, said Jeff Ricchetti was not lobbying the White House office. She added that Owens, “a sustainability expert with years of experience in the field of corporate sustainability, is not a lobbyist.”
“While keeping the Biden administration informed of progress (with local, state and federal policymakers), during the 2019 negotiations, we also maintained a dialogue with the Trump administration keeping them informed throughout the process” , she said in the press release.
The friendship between Biden and Barra has not gone unnoticed in political circles. House Republicans have been frustrated by Barra’s dealings with the White House in the past, according to a former General Motors lobbyist. CEOs who are members of the Business Roundtable, a CEO association chaired by Barra, have also expressed some concerns about his friendship with the White House, said a lobbyist who has worked with those CEOs. The lobbyists were granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.
“At Business Roundtable, our CEO members are committed to working with the administration and members of Congress from both parties to advance pro-growth policies that promote a thriving U.S. economy and expanded opportunity for all Americans ” a spokesperson for Business Roundtable said in a statement. .
For some in the workplace, the White House’s cultivation of Barra has also caused consternation. While there is little doubt about Biden’s pro-union credentials, there are concerns that some in his administration are seeing things through a corporate prism.
“The president understands. Other people around him don’t,” a union leader told POLITICO last week.
Biden officials stressed that the president received early support from the AFL-CIO and other major unions. And last week, the president pushed the Big 3 to go further in their negotiations with the strikers. His comments were praised by some progressive groups and labor activists. But Biden did not endorse the strike and acknowledged that automakers “made significant offers.”
Regardless of the outcome of the strike, General Motors is already trying to expand its presence in Washington.
The company is seeking a Director of Federal Affairs in Washington who can manage relationships with key members of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus.
The person “will be responsible for policy development and advocacy with the U.S. Congress and other federal government agencies,” GM said on its website.
A version of this report was first published in E&E News’ Climatewire. Access more complete and in-depth reports on the energy transition, natural resources, climate change and more in E&E News.