Jill Biden a key figure in push to pitch White House plans

The White House is deploying first lady Jill Biden across the country as a key asset to build support for President Biden’s proposed investments in infrastructure, child care and education.

The first lady joined the president on a trip to a Virginia elementary school and community college on Monday, and she is scheduled to travel out West later this week to Utah, Nevada and Colorado as the administration coordinates a publicity blitz in support of the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. The trip to Utah, a red state, is noteworthy, as administration officials have generally visited Democratic-run states or swing states to push its agenda thus far.

While first ladies have often hit the road to boost the president’s agenda, experts say Biden is well positioned to build support for the White House agenda because of her experience as a political spouse and her decades spent as a teacher.

“When we have seen first ladies who have professional backgrounds, who have areas of expertise that can be tapped into, then I think the White House is very smart to deploy them as a surrogate,” said Lara Brown, director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and an opinion contributor for The Hill.

“Not just because they are an expert in that area, but also because they are seen as the person who knows the president the best and knows sort of the president’s priorities and can actively convey the commitment and the passion that a president has for certain issues,” she added.

Jill Biden traveled with the president on Monday to Yorktown, Va., where the two stopped in on a 5th grade class to see how an elementary school had returned to in-person learning four days a week during the pandemic. The two then visited Tidewater Community College, where the first lady spoke about her own experience as a college professor in outlining the benefits of the Biden administration’s proposal for funding two free years of community college.

The first lady recounted when one student of hers was unable to turn in a term paper because she was going into labor and how she has taught military veterans throughout the years.

“Our schools accept everyone regardless of age or race or income or family legacy, and they offer classes that are flexible so students don’t have to choose between work and school,” Biden said. “They train for real-world jobs, they tailor to the communities they serve or they provide a strong foundation for students who want to go on to a four-year degree.

“That’s why we need two years of free community college,” she said. “And when we give all Americans a chance to learn, from preschool to community college, it will create a ripple effect that is felt by every single one of us. There is no greater investment we can make than in education.”

The American Families Plan, President Biden’s $1.8 trillion proposal, calls for a $200 billion program offering universal pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds, $109 billion for tuition-free community college for any American who wants it and $85 billion to increase Pell Grants to benefit low-income and minority students.

Biden, who often introduces himself to crowds as “Jill’s husband,” said Monday the first lady has pushed for prioritizing investments in education.

“I hear it from Jill all the time: Any country that out-educates us will out-compete us,” Biden said in remarks at the community college. 

First ladies have traditionally been active in promoting their spouses’ agendas, experts said. And first ladies are typically more popular than the president in public opinion polling, making it a no-brainer to use their clout with the American public to build support for legislative priorities whenever possible.

While former first lady Melania Trump maintained a higher approval rating than former President Trump, she was not a consistent presence in public to promote the White House agenda beyond her own Be Best initiative. Instead, that role largely fell to Ivanka Trump, the former president’s oldest daughter.

But with the Bidens in the White House, Jill Biden has launched herself fully into promoting her husband’s agenda in their first months in office.

The first lady kept a busy travel schedule when the White House launched its Help is Here tour to promote the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that included direct payments to Americans, investments to help schools return to in-person learning and additional funding to aid small businesses. Jill Biden traveled with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to classrooms in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Illinois to focus on the school funding in particular. The first lady also visited Alabama, a deep-red state, to promote the bill’s effects on reducing childhood poverty.

“She’s a teacher, so she has the skill level to talk to a large room of people from varying backgrounds with the goal to educate them on specific topics, including people who may struggle to understand different concepts,” said Teri Finneman, an associate professor in the University of Kansas School of Journalism who specializes in coverage of women politicians. 

The first lady is expected to remain a prominent surrogate for the White House as it seeks to push infrastructure and family care policies through Congress and as she tends to her own initiatives focused on military families and her teaching job at Northern Virginia Community College.

“With the school year ending she’s going to have more time in the summer, so I think we’re going to see a lot of more of her in the coming months,” Finneman said.

Tags Donald Trump Ivanka Trump Jill Biden Joe Biden Melania Trump Miguel Cardona

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