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Biden mocks Trump’s infrastructure record as he goes on offense in Midwest swing

President Joe Biden needled former President Donald Trump while heralding a major infrastructure investment during a visit to the critical battleground state of Wisconsin Thursday.

The trip comes as the president and his team are going on offense this week on the heels of improving consumer sentiment, movement his allies hope will eventually translate into better feelings about the president’s handling of the economy as he looks toward a rematch with Trump.

That push was on display Thursday with a pair of events in the Midwest, starting with a trip to Superior, Wisconsin, where Biden will be armed with $1 billion in federal funding to replace an aging bridge in the battleground state.

As he announced the funding for the decrepit Blatnik Bridge connecting Wisconsin to Minnesota, Biden said the investment would “make a huge difference” in the everyday lives of local residents. As he made a general election argument, Biden sought to draw a contrast with Trump.

“My predecessor, he chose a different course: Trickle-down economics, cut taxes for the very wealthy and big corporations, increasing the deficit significantly. That’s exactly what happened,” Biden said, adding that jobs were shipped overseas on Trump’s watch.

The events come as Biden is gearing up for a general election fight with Trump, whom the president believes locked up the GOP nomination with his New Hampshire victory Tuesday. In a statement after the primary, Biden leaned into the economy as one of the defining issues in November, saying that “our economy  — which has seen the strongest recovery in the world since Covid” is among the issues “at stake.”

But so far, Biden’s work to sell the economy – policy rollouts, travel to key states, and ad campaigns on television and online – hasn’t broken through to voters as less than a third say they approve of his approach.

President Joe Biden arrives to visit with firefighters at the Superior Fire Department on Thursday in Superior. - Alex Brandon/AP
President Joe Biden arrives to visit with firefighters at the Superior Fire Department on Thursday in Superior. - Alex Brandon/AP

Biden’s allies hope that could soon shift especially with people starting to feel more upbeat about the state of the economy. The University of Michigan’s latest consumer survey showed that sentiment improved greatly this month, soaring 13% from December and reaching its highest level since July 2021.

That coupled with cooling inflation, rising wages and a strong labor market post Covid-era job losses is a message the campaign is eager to tout.

“Voters will be hearing this economic story more and more as we get closer to November, through our thousands of field organizers, advertising and more,” said Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign. “It’s clear that many Americans are already starting to hear it. This week, the gold-standard for measuring consumer attitudes found that Americans are more confident about the economy than they’ve been in years.”

One thing Biden’s team also believes will help center its arguments is a clearer race between the president and his predecessor. They’ve seized on Trump’s recent comments predicting the economy would crash – and hoping it would do so under Biden’s watch – and they’ve sought to compare Trump’s record on jobs to Herbert Hoover, who was president as the country sank into the Great Depression.

Biden also is hoping to reap the benefit of an endorsement from the United Auto Workers, which announced its support for the sitting president on Wednesday. UAW President Shawn Fain spoke in stark terms about Trump as he made the case to rank-and-file members to embrace a Biden run.

“Donald Trump is a scab,” Fain said. “Donald Trump is a billionaire, and that’s who he represents. … Donald Trump stands against everything we stand for as a union – as a society.”

But it remains to be seen whether the campaign’s economic message will move the needle with voters, especially as Trump is set to make his own economic case against Biden heading into November.

In addition to the $1 billion in funding to help repair the bridge, Biden touted along with another $4 billion geared toward other infrastructure projects across the country, including the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River between Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon; I-10 through the Gila River Indian Community and Pinal County in Arizona; Pittsburgh’s I-376 corridor; and the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York.

The visit presented Biden with another chance to needle Trump on something he couldn’t get done while in office: passing an infrastructure bill.

“On my watch, instead of infrastructure week, America is having an infrastructure decade,” Biden said, mocking Trump with a line he’s repeated since the bill was passed.

The Biden team is eager to call out Republicans who are touting the benefits of that infrastructure bill despite voting against it. That includes Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from Minnesota who called it a “HUGE win” for his district, saying he was “proud to advocate for these funds!”

Democrats – from the White House to local officials – pounced.

“This is too brazen to ignore. Mr. Stauber voted against every screw, steel beam, and concrete pire in this bridge,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz posted on X. “Luckily @POTUS worked with Stauber’s colleagues and got it done without him. Thanks, Joe!”

While there aren’t shovels in the ground yet, the Blatnik Bridge is expected be under construction by Election Day – which Biden’s advisers hope will serve as a tangible reminder to voters of the administration’s accomplishments. The president has expressed frustration behind the scenes that some of the projects he’s trying to tout have been slow to materialize before voters’ eyes.

But as they look for new ways to communicate the president’s message, Biden’s team has tested some new tactics this year to try to move the needle on the economy. When he traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania, Biden skipped the traditional speech and instead hit up a local athletic store and coffee shop to hear directly from storeowners. In Raleigh, North Carolina, Biden huddled around a kitchen table with a family to hear their concerns.

It’s part of their effort to lean into propping up everyday Americans who can talk about how they’ve personally benefited from the president’s policies. Biden’s advisers believe these kind of messengers can help to amplify their record in a more personal way for voters.

Biden greets patrons inside the Cedar Lounge Tap Room in Superior on Thursday. - Tom Brenner/Reuters
Biden greets patrons inside the Cedar Lounge Tap Room in Superior on Thursday. - Tom Brenner/Reuters

Biden’s advisers and allies have argued a lot of these messaging pushes will take time to sink in as Americans are still reeling from the aftermath of the pandemic even as some economic bright spots have started to emerge.

“The frustration has been that, you know, the cost of eggs is too damn high. And as wages rise faster than inflation through this year, people are gonna feel more and more that the president’s work is delivering the results that they need in their lives,” Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said. “As we hit record highs in the stock market and wages for working class voters go up and inflation comes down faster than any other developed country, that adds together to exactly the economic picture that you want by Election Day.”

But, he conceded, “before those things are really sunk in for voters the frustration remains. So this campaign is a journey to a destination that is the moment the polls close.”

Much of the work to sway voters minds will take place on the ground in key battleground states this year. And the Biden team is already forecasting its plans to deploy often to the battleground state: Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off her reproductive freedoms tour in Waukesha County this week ahead of Biden’s visit.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is set to appear in Milwaukee on Friday as she looks to ramp up her domestic travel this year to promote the president’s record.

Biden’s trip Thursday took him to Douglas County, an area where he beat Trump by over 9 points in 2020, which helped Biden eke out a narrow victory in the state.

Biden’s ground operations will soon start to face key tests as they shift towards general election mode. While some Democrats have expressed concern about the pace of battleground organizing, the campaign has said they expect to be operating at “full steam” by early summer with the deployment of thousands of staffers.

The Biden campaign, which announced its campaign leadership in the state in December, has built infrastructure in Wisconsin in close consultation with the Democratic National Committee and is already canvassing and organizing for the general election as it continues to hire staff.

The state’s campaign team is also involved in the Biden campaign’s relational organizing initiative as it seeks new ways to reach voters through their social networks.

“This is game on in Wisconsin,” Wikler said.

This story and its headline have been updated with additional developments on Thursday.

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