Biden's next challenge: Selling the infrastructure bill

Biden's next challenge: Selling the infrastructure bill
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The White House is looking to refine its sales pitch for the newly passed infrastructure bill in a bid to boost the administration's standing with voters after a difficult election for Democrats and as President BidenJoe BidenFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Romney tests positive for coronavirus Pelosi sidesteps progressives' March 1 deadline for Build Back Better MORE has seen his approval ratings sink.

Officials have argued for months about the need for infrastructure investments to maintain the nation's economic competitiveness. Now, with one bill passed and another spending package working its way through Congress, Biden and his top aides are seeking to convince the public that the White House agenda is tangibly benefiting voters.

The president will head to Baltimore on Wednesday to tout new investments in ports that will alleviate supply chain issues. The White House has also assigned a handful of Cabinet secretaries with messaging the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to the public.

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Ensuring the public is aware of how the bill is benefiting their communities will be crucial for the White House as it seeks a bump in approval after a difficult few months. Poll after poll has shown Americans concerned about inflation and the economy, and Democrats suffered key losses in state elections earlier this month, punctuated by a defeat in the Virginia governor’s race.

“I think it’s important for us day in and day out to make the connection to what has been done here and the day-to-day improvements in people’s lives,” said Tom PerezThomas PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE, former Democratic National Committee chairman and co-chair of American Bridge 21st Century.

Perez noted a swath of Americans still don’t realize the child tax credit they’ve received this year was part of the American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed in March, an example that underscores the importance of making sure the public connects improvements in their lives to what the administration is doing.

“We need to be the implementers-in-chief, we need to be the explainers-in-chief, and we need to be the marketers-in-chief. That is how we will succeed,” Perez said.

The Biden administration intends to engage a broad coalition of outside organizations and government officials to help educate the public about the infrastructure bill, according to a White House official.

The White House will collaborate with labor groups, business coalitions and state and local leaders to reach Americans at the local level.

That community focus was on display Monday when Biden sat down for an interview with a local station in Cincinnati to discuss the bill’s benefits for a nearby bridge that has long been in need of repairs.

In Baltimore on Wednesday, Biden will visit the Port of Baltimore and give remarks. White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-PierreKarine Jean-PierreOvernight Health Care — White House sees quick uptake for free tests White House says 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 tests The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Actor John Krasinski films outside White House MORE, when pressed on why Biden is going to that site over other major U.S. ports, said the trip is focused on the investments to fix the supply chain.

“It’s very important to the supply chain and all the work that he’s doing to make sure that we deal with the issue that we’re having currently,” she said Tuesday.

Later in the week, Biden is slated to hold a Cabinet meeting to discuss implementation of the bill and expected results, including rebuilding roads, bridges and rails, expanding access to clean drinking water, ensuring access to high-speed internet and tackling the climate crisis.

Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg targeting rising traffic fatalities The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Airlines suspend US flights in response to 5G deployment MORE and Commerce Secretary Gina RaimondoGina RaimondoBiden to meet with CEOs to discuss Build Back Better agenda Commerce Dept warns factories vulnerable to shutdowns over computer chip shortage Chips, batteries and other technologies: A US-EU partnership is crucial MORE joined the White House press briefings on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, to talk about the bill. Their appearances are part of a broader delegation for specific agencies to highlight specific benefits.

The Transportation Department will spearhead messaging efforts on how the bill will improve roads, ports, rails and bridges; Interior will focus on the benefits for Native communities and combating climate change; the Energy Department will outline how the bill helps repair the electrical grid; the Commerce Department will lead messaging on implementing internet to communities without access; and the EPA will detail how the bill will allow for the replacement of lead pipes.

In Washington, administration officials have touted the mammoth bill as a historical investment and transformative piece of legislation. But the messaging in states should be different, argued Ryan McConaghy, former senior aide to Senate democratic leadership and partner at Forbes Tate.

He said the administration should focus on the tangible benefits of the package and what concrete, local impacts it will have on Americans when selling it across the country.

“I think the president is doing a good job going to Baltimore and deploying the Cabinet. They can’t sell this from D.C. alone. That’s particularly important for rural areas, where people feel like Democrats have abandoned them,” he said.

McConaghy argued the administration needs to keep up with selling it beyond this initial push.

“They need to stay on this with progress reports, they can’t just put a shovel in the ground and have a ribbon-cutting. They need to provide ongoing updates about money going out the door to fund projects over the next months,” he said.

Biden has not yet signed the legislation into law and the White House has not yet indicated when that ceremony will take place. Congress is out this week and Jean-Pierre said on Monday Biden “wants to make sure the congressional members who worked very, very hard on this, when they come back, then we'll figure out a time to sign it.”

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McConaghy said involving members of Congress with selling the package will help Americans feel less disconnected from the bill's benefits.

“President Biden and Democrats in Congress can use this win to show that they are governing. Numerous administrations and Congresses have tried to do this for a long time, and it’s happened now under their watch. The president has a great sales force with the members that helped to make this happen,” he said. 

“Working with them to localize the impacts on specific projects and the jobs and economic projects, they will have to be a key part of the strategy to reap the political benefits of this,” he added.

Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioTop Democrats call on AT&T and Verizon to delay 5G rollouts near airports On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Democrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends MORE (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Americans will be able to see the benefits come next construction season. 

"There's going to be one hell of a lot of jobs out there. Manufacturers are going to be making new bus sets. We are going to put a lot of people to work, moving America toward a 21st Century transportation bill. They will notice,” he said.

Problem Solvers Caucus co-chair Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerDCCC expands list of vulnerable House Democrats SALT change likely to be cut from bill, say Senate Democrats Redistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want MORE (D-N.J.) said last week he “can’t wait” to go home to New Jersey to tout what is in the bill. 

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“From the Gateway Tunnel, which is the tunnel between New York and New Jersey, fixing a lot of crumbling roads — we've got the third worst roads in the country, a third of our bridges are considered unsafe. Looking forward to showing how we can deliver," he said.

"Also, talking about a significant investment in broadband — I've got big swaths of rural areas that do not have high-speed internet. We've got a lot of lead water issues and pipes. There's a lot to be [helpful] to our families,” he said.

Naomi Jagoda contributed to this report.