Biden visits Kentucky to highlight bipartisanship

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 7, 2023

Was accompanied by both Democratic, Republican lawmakers

COVINGTON, Kentucky (AP) — President Joe Biden was visiting a dilapidated bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky to talk up the virtues of bipartisanship with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday.

Biden appeared at the Brent Spence Bridge, which is getting a federal facelift after years of being declared functionally obsolete decades ago and was accompanied by McConnell, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, former Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican. Officials hope much of the work on the new project will be completed by 2029.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown speaks during President Joe Biden’s visit to Covington, Kentucky on Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

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Biden’s appearance with McConnell was meant to mark a renewed push by his administration to highlight the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law and to appeal to newly empowered Republicans to find additional areas of cooperation in the new Congress.

Democrats’ stronger-than-expected showing in the midterms allowed their party to retain control of the Senate even as the House fell to Republicans.

The infrastructure law provided $1 trillion that Biden’s administration is doling out for roads and bridges, broadband networks and water projects across America. The money will be critical not just for the communities getting the help but to the Democratic president’s political theory that voters are hungry for bipartisanship that delivers tangible results.

That new effort kicks off as Biden stops in northern Kentucky at the perennially congested bridge spanning the Ohio River that has frustrated motorists for decades. The infrastructure law will offer more than $1.63 billion in federal grants to Ohio and Kentucky to build a companion bridge that will help unclog traffic on the Brent Spence.

“It’s a giant bridge, man,” Biden said this week when asked about his planned trip to the bridge. “It’s a lot of money. It’s important.”

Brown touted the progress on the project.

“Whether it’s a safer commute to work, or businesses safely and affordably transporting their products, this bridge will make life better for people in Ohio and Kentucky,” Brown said during his remarks. “Today shows just what we can achieve for the region and for the country when everyone works together.”

Other top administration officials are holding similar events Wednesday and Thursday at other major bridges in the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is stopping by the collection of bridges crossing the Calumet River in Chicago; Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was appearing at the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in New London, Connecticut; and White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu was to be at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Thursday with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

All the bridges will get new funding under the infrastructure law, which is one of Biden’s marquee bipartisan accomplishments.

Landrieu told reporters on Air Force One that Biden’s appearance with McConnell was “really important to demonstrate that these two people who have been friends for a long time and who don’t always see eye to eye have put their country first.”

The Brent Spence, which carries Interstates 71 and 75 between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, was declared functionally obsolete by the Federal Highway Administration in the 1990s. It has become an outsized symbol of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, with successive presidents from both parties singling out the aging span as they stumped for better roads and bridges.

In 2011, President Barack Obama name-checked McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, who represented the Cincinnati suburbs, as he stood near the Brent Spence and pushed the two Republican leaders to support a jobs package that would fix similarly ailing bridges. Six years later, President Donald Trump told a local Fox station that “I’ve already heard about the bridge. I love the area.”

“We’re going to get it fixed,” Trump said about the Brent Spence, which he called “dangerous.”

As for Biden, he said during a 2021 CNN town hall in Cincinnati that his administration would “fix that damn bridge of yours.” The span was designed for 80,000 vehicles a day but was easily doubling that on its narrow lanes.

On Wednesday, Biden can begin to make good on that promise.

The White House also invited Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and newly sworn in J.D. Vance of Ohio, according to a White House official, but neither planned to appear with Biden in northern Kentucky.

McConnell, who was already home in Kentucky, did not fly with Biden on Air Force One but greeted him on the tarmac at Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport. He joined the president in his limousine for the drive to the bridge.

McConnell was one of 19 Senate Republicans to support the infrastructure law and has said repairing the Brent Spence has long been a priority.

“This is a bridge that has been a major national issue for 25 years, my top transportation project for decades. And it’s going to be fully funded by the infrastructure bill, which I supported,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “It’s important for me to be there.”