CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) — President Joe Biden and top administration officials will open a new year of divided government by fanning out across the country to talk about how the economy is benefiting from his work with Democrats and Republicans.
As part of the pitch, Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will make a rare joint appearance in McConnell's home state of Kentucky on Wednesday to highlight nearly $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that lawmakers approved on a bipartisan basis in 2021.
The Democratic president will also be joined by a bipartisan group of elected officials when he visits the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati area, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, the White House said.
Biden's bipartisanship blitz was announced two days before Republicans retake control of the House from Democrats on Tuesday following GOP gains in the November elections. The shift ends unified political control of Congress by Democrats and complicates Biden's future legislative agenda. Democrats will remain in charge in the Senate.
Before he departed Washington for vacation at the end of last year, Biden appealed for less partisanship, saying he hoped everyone will see each other “not as Democrats or Republicans, not as members of ‘Team Red’ or ‘Team Blue,’ but as who we really are, fellow Americans.”
The president's trip appeared tied to a recent announcement by Kentucky and Ohio that they will receive more than $1.63 billion in federal grants to help build a new Ohio River bridge near Cincinnati and improve the existing overloaded span there, a heavily used freight route linking the Midwest and the South.
Congestion at the Brent Spence Bridge on Interstates 75 and 71 has for years been a frustrating bottleneck on a key shipping corridor and a symbol of the nation’s growing infrastructure needs. Officials say the bridge was built in the 1960s to carry around 80,000 vehicles a day but has seen double that traffic load on its narrow lanes, leading the Federal Highway Administration to declare it functionally obsolete.
The planned project covers about 8 miles (12 kilometers) and includes improvements to the bridge and some connecting roads and construction of a companion span nearby. Both states coordinated to request funding under the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal signed in 2021 by Biden, who had highlighted the project as the legislation moved through Congress.
McConnell said the companion bridge “will be one of the bill’s crowning accomplishments.”
DeWine said both states have been discussing the project for almost two decades “and now, we can finally move beyond the talk and get to work.”
Officials hope to break ground later this year and complete much of the work by 2029.
Biden's visit could also provide a political boost to Beshear, who is seeking reelection this year in his overwhelmingly Republican state.
In a December 2022 interview with The Associated Press, Beshear gave a mixed review of Biden's job performance. Biden had joined Beshear to tour tornado- and flood-stricken regions of Kentucky last year.
“There are things that I think have been done well, and there are things that I wish would have been done better," Beshear said of Biden.
Other top administration officials will also help promote Biden's economic policies this week.
In Chicago on Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris will discuss "how the President’s economic plan is rebuilding our infrastructure, creating good-paying jobs – jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, and revitalizing communities left behind,” the White House said in its announcement.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was delivering the same message in New London, Connecticut, also on Wednesday.
Mitch Landrieu, the White House official tasked with promoting infrastructure spending, will join soon-to-be former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday in San Francisco, which she represents in Congress.
Biden was scheduled to return to the White House on Monday after spending nearly a week with family on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The president opened New Year's Day on Sunday by watching the first sunrise of 2023 and attending Mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Christiansted, where he has attended religious services during his past visits to the island.