United States President Joe Biden has met with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in the southern state of Kentucky, where he promoted the benefits of a 2021 infrastructure spending package and pushed for greater bipartisanship.
Biden visited the Brent Spence Bridge on the border of Kentucky and Ohio on Wednesday to highlight projects that stand to benefit from the $1 trillion infrastructure deal, a centrepiece of the president’s legislative agenda. The worn-out double-decker bridge is due to receive upgrades as part of the spending package.
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“When the president ran for office, he said that, if elected, he would use the power of the presidency to bring the country together,” senior White House adviser Mitch Landrieu told reporters on Wednesday. “And when we [do] that, we can do big things. And there’s no better example of that than the Brent Spence Bridge.”
During the trip, Biden also addressed what he depicted as Republican dysfunction in the US House of Representatives. The 2022 midterm elections gave Republicans a majority in the House, but at the first session of the Republican-controlled chamber on Tuesday, infighting stalled efforts to name a speaker to preside over proceedings.
Republican leader Kevin McCarthy had been seen as the most likely candidate to assume the speaker position. But he has so far failed win the gavel, with far-right members of his party opposing his leadership.
“That’s not my problem,” Biden said of the vote for House speaker. “I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long.”
Because of the split Congress — with the House in Republican control and the Senate in Democratic hands — Biden faces an uphill battle in advancing his legislative priorities in the year ahead.
But Biden’s appearance on Wednesday with McConnell, a powerful Republican tactician, has been seen as an effort to promote cooperation across the aisle. Democrats hope to draw attention to the administration’s accomplishments over the last two years, to spur momentum for bipartisan action.
The infrastructure bill, which Biden signed into law in November 2021, will bring more than $1.6bn in federal grants to Ohio and Kentucky, the deep-red state McConnell represents in Congress. Part of the funds will help repair the Brent Spence Bridge and alleviate congestion by building a second bridge next to it, allowing for easier travel between the two states.
“It sends an important message to the entire country: we can work together,” Biden said during his Wednesday appearance with McConnell. “We can get things done. We can move the nation forward if we just drop a little bit of our egos and focus on what is needed for the country.”
Other members of the Biden administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, were travelling this week, visiting bridges that will receive funds in Illinois and Connecticut, respectively.
The infrastructure deal will also dole out funds for improvements to roads, broadband and water infrastructure across the country. Democrats and some Republicans supported the bill, but the GOP has taken a largely adversarial stance towards the Biden administration.
During Wednesday’s visit, Biden also announced plans to visit the US-Mexico border next week, as Republicans push his administration for greater immigration enforcement. Right-wing lawmakers have criticised the president for failing to visit the southern border since taking office.