St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
President Joe Biden, after returning this week to a politically reshaped Washington, will join top Republican officials to herald his infrastructure law as he seeks out bipartisan cooperation in a new era of divided government.
Wednesday’s event in Kentucky, which will include Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is meant to underscore the importance of the massive public works package Biden signed into law in 2021. The area, across the Ohio state line from Cincinnati, is home to the Brent Spence Bridge – long an illustration of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure that is due to receive funding from the law for repairs.
For Biden, however, perhaps more important than the law itself will be the show of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats as he looks ahead to a contentious second half of his term and the likely start of a reelection bid.
As he wound down his winter vacation here on Sunday, the president voiced optimism for the coming year.
“Good year next year,” he said as he departed Mass at a local Catholic church, giving a thumbs up. “Looking forward to it.”
It was a characteristically optimistic outlook for the president, who enters 2023 having defied projections of a midterm wipeout but still facing a new political reality in Congress.
As Republicans prepare to assume control of the US House of Representatives, Biden is hoping to demonstrate his willingness to work across the aisle, even as GOP lawmakers threaten to stymie his legislative ambitions and barrage the White House with oversight investigations.
The president and his team hope the comparison will prove advantageous as Americans look to Washington for steps to ease economic hardships. Over the coming weeks, Biden is expected to reiterate his bipartisan achievements in stops around the country as the Republican majority begins its work, culminating in his yearly State of the Union address.
At his stop along the Ohio-Kentucky border on Wednesday, he’ll also 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 is rebuilding our infrastructure, creating good-paying jobs – jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, and revitalizing communities left behind,” a White House official said.
NBC News was first to report on the upcoming trips.
Biden has spent much of his tenure so far in pursuit of bipartisan legislation, finding success in the infrastructure package along with measures bolstering the US microchip industry, providing funding for Ukraine and guaranteeing health coverage for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
Hope among Democrats at finding areas of agreement with the Republican Congress has been slim, though on certain areas – including China and, to a certain extent, Ukraine – they have been guardedly optimistic.
In other areas, including spending bills and the looming debt ceiling deadline, aides in both parties are bracing for high-stakes standoffs.
Yet at Biden’s direction, White House officials have quietly engaged in early stage preparations for the new reality on Capitol Hill, homing in on two key groups as they search for issues that can draw bipartisan support: moderate Republicans with a proven track record of working across the aisle and the incoming class of freshmen Republicans who flipped districts Biden won two years earlier.
Those lawmakers will make up the core of any White House effort to secure the bipartisan wins that officials said Biden is interested in pursuing in the two years ahead. They will also be key to any White House hopes of scuttling Republican bills in the House and attempts to squeeze House GOP leadership on key issues.
White House officials are also closely watching the race among Republicans to elect a new House speaker. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, had long been expected to be elevated to the role, but he remains locked in an intraparty battle to consolidate support. Biden spoke to McCarthy by phone shortly after the midterm election and the California Republican was one of four leaders to meet with Biden at the White House a few weeks later.
McCarthy, after the meeting, told reporters he “can work with anyone,” but noted the new Republican majority in the House clinched in the midterms signaled that “America likes a check and balance.”
Looming over the president’s efforts at working with Republicans will be his decision on mounting a reelection bid for the White House. Biden has stated repeatedly he intends to run again, but said before his vacation this week to the US Virgin Islands he would consult with family members over the holidays.
As he finalizes his decision, work has been underway to build a campaign to be ready when the president announces his intentions. Many Democrats close to Biden say they are convinced he will run again, and there appears to be little dissent within his family.
There was little public evidence of intensive family discussions this week on St. Croix. Biden left his rental home on the eastern end of the island to golf, eat dinner, go to church and tape an appearance on Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Eve broadcast, but otherwise remained out of view. After much local speculation, he and his family decided to forgo a sunrise hike on New Year’s Day to Point Udall – billed as the easternmost point in the United States.
Instead, Biden appeared to have spent the week in intensive relaxation with his wife, children and grandchildren, perhaps lightly peppered with a few conversations about the year ahead.
As he was departing dinner just past 9 p.m. one evening, he was asked whether he’d discussed his 2024 plans with his family.
“There’s an election coming up?” he asked, smiling. “I didn’t know that.”
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