“We’re gonna fix that damn bridge of yours going into Kentucky,” President Joe Biden told a town hall audience in Cincinnati Wednesday night as he was promoting a bipartisan infrastructure plan that he expects to advance in the Senate as soon as Monday.
The president praised the efforts of Democratic and Republican senators to finalize an agreement on the infrastructure deal on which Biden said he shook hands with the lawmakers. And being in Ohio, he singled out Republican Sen. Rob Portman, one of the lead negotiators.
“I talked to him before I got here, and I really mean it, he’s a decent, honorable man, and he and I are working on trying to get this infrastructure bill passed,” Biden said.
Republicans earlier Wednesday blocked on an effort by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to limit debate on proceeding to the bill that Schumer intends to use to advance the bipartisan deal when text comes together; but another attempt is expected on Monday.
Biden’s visit Wednesday had particular echoes of a September 2011 visit by President Barack Obama, who used the literal backdrop of the beleaguered Brent Spence Bridge, a double-decker structure spanning the Ohio River between Covington, Ky., and Cincinnati that was “functionally obsolete” even a decade ago — but still continues to be used.
“Absolutely, positively yes,” Biden said on whether it was possible to pass a bill that could provide for a replacement to the bridge, which carries Interstate 75 and Interstate 71, becoming the third president in a row to highlight the specific highway project.
Back in 2011, Obama was in town to try to sell what he called his American Jobs Act, a plan that featured a mix of tax and spending proposals that the White House said at the time would enable “modernizing our roads, rail, airports and waterways while putting hundreds of thousands of workers back on the job.”
At the time, Obama faced a divided Congress, with a Democratic Senate majority but Republicans in control of the House and expressing no interest in the legislative proposal.
President Donald Trump, too, made promises about the bridge when he was in office, as Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley pointed out during multiple appearances on CNN Wednesday.
“What the people here want to know is that he [Biden] can and will follow through on this bipartisan infrastructure deal that will rebuild a bridge between Ohio and Kentucky, that Donald Trump promised to fix but never did,” Cranley, a Democrat, said ahead of the town hall, which was hosted by CNN.
The Brent Spence Bridge would surely be a candidate for prioritization under the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, even though it is not expected to include congressionally directed spending on specific projects.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is regularly asked about the bridge during stops in northern Kentucky, and he regularly notes that the scale of the project is so massive that no earmark would be sufficient.
“If there were a solution in Washington, believe me, when John Boehner was speaker and I was Republican leader, we would have been able to produce that,” McConnell said last year, referring to the former Republican speaker from Ohio. “The people who represent northern Kentucky and all of Kentucky in Frankfort have to decide how they want to pay for it.”
Ahead of the president's Ohio trip, a White House official highlighted relief funds that have already been allocated to the governments of both Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati.
Biden is just the latest national political figure to travel to the Cincinnati media market to make the case for a major campaign or legislative priority. Trump held numerous events in the area, including a 2019 campaign rally inside US Bank Arena.
Ohio Republican Senate candidates, who are vying for the seat being vacated by the retiring Portman, were critical of even the infrastructure components of Biden’s proposals now part of the bipartisan infrastructure talks in the Senate — negotiations on which Portman is among the key players.
“Biden will talk about infrastructure, a deal he has continuously mishandled, moved the goalposts, and acted in bad faith by prioritizing socialist agenda items over the needs of communities,” GOP Senate candidate Jane Timken said in a statement.
More traditional allies of the president hope infrastructure is a winning issue for Democrats.
Yvette Simpson, the CEO of the progressive Democratic group Democracy for America and a former Cincinnati city council member, said in an email that Ohio is still very much a purple state despite Trump holding the state in 2020 even as he lost other battlegrounds in the Midwest.
“Ohio is a strong union, working class state with lots of industry and for years, manufacturing and infrastructure were (and perhaps still are) major industries with potential for creating jobs, expanding the trades, and protecting the very ‘auto-centric’ way of life that is so Midwestern,” Simpson said. “With our infrastructure literally crumbling from years of neglect, nearly every President has come to Ohio with promises of infrastructure investment and rarely have those promises been kept.”