Biden celebrates new bridges as campaign season nears

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is awarding nearly $300 million to help repair or replace more than a dozen bridges across the country, closing out a three-week tour to highlight the benefits of infrastructure investments in local communities.

Events in four states on Thursday marked the end of the beginning phase of an increasingly expansive White House effort to remind voters of his President Joe Biden’s accomplishments heading into his expected 2024 reelection race.

During the administration’s “Investing in America” tour, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other officials held more than 50 events across 25 states at projects benefiting from the landmark infrastructure, climate and high-tech manufacturing laws passed during the Democratic president’s first two years in office.

There will be much more talk to come about Biden’s record.

“This is the focus of the next year-plus,” White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, who got the job in February with a mandate to oversee implementation of the massive laws, told The Associated Press. “The priority is implementation, execution and communicating with the American people how this is making people’s lives better.”

On Thursday, Harris attended an event awarding $72 million to rebuild a major bridge carrying I-395 from Virginia into Washington. Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in upstate New York to announce $21 million to rehabilitate the Castleton-on-Hudson Bridge, Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt announced $51.2 million to replace six bridges in rural South Carolina, and White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu celebrated $15.1 million to help replace six bridges leading into Madison, Wisconsin.

“We think about things like the Golden Gate Bridge,” Harris said, standing in front of the simple concrete span into the nation’s capital, but bridges like the one crossing the Potomac River are “just as important.”

Zients said the officials’ travel is part of the White House emphasis on “telling the story” of Biden’s record, adding that “the best way to tell the story is to go where things are happening.”

While such stories are generally overshadowed on a national scale by other developments, the White House believes the officials’ visits and the milestones they mark will resonate with the communities that benefit from them. As projects go from the drawing board to shovels in the ground to ribbon-cuttings, Zients said, the administration is planning to be there to celebrate each step, “local community by local community.”

The sales pitch to Americans comes as the prospects for new legislation of similar impact are minimal. Republicans with no desire to help Biden now control the House, and Congress appears headed for a summer of discord over raising the nation’s debt limit and keeping the government open.

Zients said one aim of the White House push was to draw a contrast with congressional Republicans, many of whom have voted against key pieces of Biden’s legislative record. It’s a strategy Biden deployed effectively in the 2022 midterms, when Democrats saw a better-than-expected outcome.

“When people understand the choices they face, President Biden’s vision and approach and his results speak for themselves – and we win,” Zients said.

Biden, 80, has not formally launched his 2024 bid, but he has said he intends to run – and has cleared the Democratic field of significant challengers. An announcement is expected in the coming months.

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