Biden, top officials spread out to promote infrastructure package

Associated Press-Evan Vucci

President Biden and other top officials are fanning out across the country to promote the bipartisan infrastructure law, in many cases heading to swing states and locations where lawmakers face tight races next year. 

Biden traveled to New Hampshire and Michigan this week, while Vice President Harris is being deployed to Ohio and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is headed to Arizona, all to demonstrate what effects the law will have locally.

Democrats say it is crucial that the White House and other members of the party effectively sell the components of the infrastructure package to the American public by highlighting near-term projects. 

“I think it’s important that we talk about what’s in the package and what it will do for the people of Michigan,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes. She added that Democrats must remind voters that “almost all of the Republicans did not support the things that were in this package.” The bill passed the Senate with substantial bipartisan support, but the majority of House Republicans voted against it.

“This is ‘promises kept,’ ” Barnes said. 

Biden on Wednesday was in Detroit, where he visited General Motors’ electric vehicle assembly plant to highlight the funding in the bill to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations.

“We’re going to make sure that the jobs of the future end up here in Michigan, not halfway around the world,” Biden said during his remarks in Detroit. “That means that here in Detroit, you’re going to set a new pace for electric vehicles.”

Some of the states Biden administration officials are visiting are home to senators who negotiated the bipartisan deal on the infrastructure package that Biden signed into law on Monday. When Biden visited a structurally deficient bridge in Woodstock, N.H., Tuesday afternoon, he was joined by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who was among that negotiating group. 

Biden was also joined by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), who is seen as one of the more vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection next year, and Democratic Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, both of whom are at risk of losing their seats in 2022. 

In Michigan, Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee, Debbie Dingell, Brenda Lawrence, Andy Levin and Haley Stevens and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), who is up for reelection in 2024, traveled with Biden to Detroit on Wednesday. Biden narrowly won Michigan in 2020, and the state is expected to have several competitive races next year, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) reelection bid. During his speech, Biden name-dropped Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D), who couldn’t be at the event and who is facing challenging reelection prospects.

Whitmer was unable to attend the event because she was meeting with leaders in the semiconductor industry in California about the automotive chip crisis, her office said.

Democrats view Biden’s trips as an opportunity for him to boost his popularity with the public, which is certain to be a factor in upcoming competitive races. Biden’s approval ratings have declined following the flawed withdrawal from Afghanistan and amid negative public sentiment about the coronavirus and economy.

“In these states, the Democrats running for reelection will sink or swim based on Joe Biden’s approval ratings in those states,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the Democratic think tank Third Way. “He doesn’t need stellar ratings, but higher ratings than he has now. So highlighting this major accomplishment in these specific places is exactly the right politics.”

White House officials indicated that the effort to promote the infrastructure bill will be a sustained campaign over the coming months involving not only Biden and Harris but also first lady Jill Biden, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and other members of the Cabinet.

“Officials will travel red states, blue states, big cities, small towns, rural areas, tribal communities and more to highlight how the president forged consensus to demonstrate how democracies can deliver real results for their people,” a White House official said on Tuesday.

On Friday, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is going to Michigan, while Harris is in Ohio and Buttigieg is in Arizona. On Saturday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will travel to Georgia and California, respectively, and next week Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is going to Tennessee and Haaland to New Mexico.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan also has planned visits to Louisiana and Texas.

The Biden administration is also trying to quickly implement the legislation to get funding to infrastructure projects that are shovel-ready. 

“When you can see the results, it’s a lot different than reading about the results. The fact that not only are people going to be able to see shovels, they’re going to be able to have essentially a better quality of life as a result of this bill. If not anything, broadband access is so critical and that’s going to have an immediate impact. The amount of people who are going to be put to work from this bill,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist.

The White House is getting some help from outside groups in promoting the bipartisan legislative victory.

Building Back Together, the Biden-aligned group that launched earlier this year, on Wednesday announced a $10 million ad campaign beginning with an advertisement promoting the infrastructure bill and Biden’s ability to deliver on the bipartisan accomplishment. The group said the ad will run in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., through Thanksgiving.

“We know what happened after we passed the very consequential Affordable Care Act, we did not tell people what we did so the very thing that ended up helping people hurt us,” Seawright said. “I’m very happy to hear they are going on the road to tell people about the bipartisan infrastructure deal. The fact that this White House is taking the time to travel the country to educate people will make them feel like their vote was worth it in November of last year.”

The Affordable Care Act was signed into law by then-President Obama in March 2010, and Democrats lost the House later that same year.

“I think Democrats are learning from our mistakes,” Seawright added.

Democrats have partially attributed Biden’s low approval ratings to the haggling over his domestic agenda in Congress. The infrastructure bill languished in the House for three months amid debate of a separate spending package before Democrats, bruised from a bad loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race, reached an agreement to vote on it. 

House Democrats are hoping to pass the separate climate and social spending package by the end of this week, but it still faces an uphill battle in the Senate due to unanimous GOP opposition and lingering concerns among moderates. 

“We have to move from the sausage making phase to the serving of the meal. And the last several months have just been ugly Washington negotiating,” Kessler said.

“There’s a point where you have to move from the prep work to the selling of the product, and that’s happening now with the infrastructure bill, and the hope is that 2022 is going to be mainly selling what Biden has done in his first year,” he said.  

Julia Manchester contributed. 

Tags Andy Levin Barack Obama Brenda Lawrence Chris Pappas Dan Kildee Deb Haaland Debbie Dingell Debbie Stabenow Doug Emhoff Elissa Slotkin Gretchen Whitmer Haley Stevens Jeanne Shaheen Jennifer Granholm Jill Biden Joe Biden Maggie Hassan Marcia Fudge Marty Walsh Michael Regan Pete Buttigieg

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