St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
President Joe Bidenafter returning this week to politically reshaped Washington, will join top Republican officials to announce his infrastructure law as it seeks bipartisan cooperation in a new era of divided government.
Wednesday’s event in Kentucky, which will include Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, aims to highlight the importance of the massive overhaul package Biden signed into law in 2021. The area, across the Ohio state line from Cincinnati, is home to The Brent Spence Bridge – a long illustration of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, which should receive funding under the Repair Act.
For Biden, however, perhaps more important than the law itself will be the demonstration of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats as he faces a contentious second half of his term and the likely start of a re-election bid.
As he wrapped up his winter break here on Sunday, the president expressed optimism for the coming year.
“Good year next year,” he said as he left mass at a local Catholic church, giving a thumbs up. “I’m looking forward to it.”
It was a characteristically upbeat outlook for the president, who enters 2023 defying forecasts of a midterm wipeout but still facing a new political reality in Congress.
As Republicans prepare to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Biden hopes to demonstrate his willingness to work across the aisle, even as GOP lawmakers threaten to stymie his legislative ambitions and bombard the White House with oversight investigations.
The president and his team hope the comparison will prove beneficial as Americans look to Washington for steps to ease economic hardship. In the coming weeks, Biden is expected to repeat his bipartisan achievements in stops around the country as the Republican majority begins its work, culminating in his annual State of the Union address.
At his stop along the Ohio-Kentucky border on Wednesday, he will be joined by Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, along with two Democrats: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
A number of cabinet officials also plan to travel later this week to promote the infrastructure law. Vice President Kamala Harris will stop in Chicago and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will visit New London, Connecticut. They will “discuss how the president’s economic plan rebuilds our infrastructure, creates good-paying jobs — jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, and revitalizes neglected communities,” a White House official said.
NBC News was be the first to report on upcoming trips.
Biden has spent much of his term so far pursuing bipartisan legislation, succeeding on an infrastructure package along with measures to bolster the U.S. microchip industry, secure funding for Ukraine and guarantee health insurance for veterans exposed to toxic burns.
Hopes among Democrats for finding areas of agreement with the Republican Congress are dim, although in some areas – including China and, to some extent, Ukraine – they are cautiously optimistic.
In other areas, including spending bills and the looming debt ceiling deadline, aides to both parties are preparing for a high-stakes showdown.
Still, at Biden’s behest, White House officials have quietly engaged in early-stage preparations for the new reality on Capitol Hill, targeting two key groups as they look for issues that can attract bipartisan support: moderate Republicans with a proven track record of his trail work and the incoming class of freshman Republicans who flipped districts won by Biden two years earlier.
Those lawmakers will form the core of any White House effort to secure the bipartisan victories that officials say Biden is interested in pursuing over the next two years. They will also be key to any White House hopes of defeating House Republican bills and efforts to squeeze House GOP leadership on key issues.
White House officials are also closely watching the race among Republicans to choose a new speaker of the House. Rep. Kevin McCarthy has long been expected to be elevated to the role, but he remains in an intraparty battle to consolidate support. Biden spoke with McCarthy by phone shortly after the midterm elections, and the California Republican was one of four leaders who met with Biden at the White House a few weeks later.
After the meeting, McCarthy told reporters that he “can work with anybody,” but noted that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, achieved during the midterm elections, signaled that “America loves checks and balances.”
On top of the president’s efforts to work with Republicans will be his decision to run for re-election to the White House. Biden has repeatedly said he intends to run again, but said before his vacation this week in the U.S. Virgin Islands that he would consult with family members over the holidays.
While he finalizes his decision, work is underway to build a campaign that will be ready when the president announces his intentions. Many Democrats close to Biden say they are confident he will run again, and there appears to be little dissent within his family.
There was little public evidence of intense family discussions this week on St. Croix. Biden left his rental home on the east end of the island to play golf, dine, attend church and tape an appearance on Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Eve show, but otherwise stayed out of sight. After much local speculation, he and his family decided to forego the New Year’s Day sunrise hike to Point Udall — billed as the easternmost point in the United States.
Instead, Biden appears to have spent the week taking an intense vacation with his wife, children and grandchildren, perhaps lightly peppered with a few talks about the year ahead.
As he was leaving dinner shortly after 9pm one night, he was asked if he had discussed his plans for 2024 with his family.
“An election coming up?” he asked, smiling. “I didn’t know that.”
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