President Joe Biden on Thursday visited a small, deindustrialized Ohio steel town to tout his ambitious multi-trillion-dollar proposed spending plan, to announce a $1 billion initiative for environmental cleanup and restoration, and to court voters in a crucial state ahead of this year's tightly contested midterm elections.
"Today, we're announcing an investment of $1 billion — $1 billion — from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill," he said, speaking to about 60 invited guests, including members of Congress, local elected officials and labor leaders at a shipyard in the lakeside town of Lorain, Ohio.
"It's going to allow the most significant restoration of the Great Lakes in the history of the Great Lakes. We're going to accelerate cleanup of sites across six states in the Great Lakes Basin — from Duluth, Minnesota, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Gary, Indiana, to Buffalo, New York, and everywhere in between," Biden said.
Lorain is a town of about 65,000 people whose moribund main street runs straight into Lake Erie. The town was hit hard by the decline of American manufacturing. Yet both of Biden's predecessors have made a point of visiting the once-bustling steel town to tout their accomplishments and to court voters. This corner of America is especially important this year, as swing-state Ohio will see the retirement of Republican Senator Rob Portman.
Or, as former President Donald Trump put it when he visited a nearby town in June for his first post-presidential rally: "Next year, the Republican red wave is going to begin right here," Trump told the crowd at the Lorain County Fairgrounds, which is in the nearby town of Wellington. "We will fight for more jobs for Ohio families, fair trade for Ohio workers, and more Ohio factories forging more products stamped with that beautiful, beautiful phrase, 'Made in the U.S.A.'"
And a small corner of southern Lorain is represented by one of Biden's harshest critics, Republican U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, who voted against Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure bill. His opposition to the bill echoes that of many in his party.
"Democrats' economic plan is basically the dumbest plan in history because it is 'lock down the economy, spend like crazy, pay people not to work, and oh, for everyone who has been working, we're now going to raise your taxes,'" he said shortly after the bill passed late last year.
Environmental advocates praised the expenditure — and Biden's choice to visit the area to talk about it.
"The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is clear that these are the types of environmental remediation projects that the $1.2 trillion should be used for," said Steve Cochran, associate vice president of state affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund. "The President is making it a priority, which shows that the solutions are not only important but have broad support in the region and for these constituencies. Given the problems in the Great Lakes, and how much the communities depend on them, this is an excellent use of resources."
Bipartisan observers agree.
"The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was a significant achievement. It makes political sense to barnstorm the country touting it," said Andy Winkler, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center. "But there's also real value in these visits. The U.S. needs to make transformational investments in infrastructure to address climate change and stay economically competitive. To the extent the administration can, it must encourage state and local officials to take advantage of every resource the law offers and invest wisely."
But, Winkler added: "President Biden should visit red states and blue states alike, in places he won and places he didn't, to meet with Republicans and Democrats and explain why the bill was a significant bipartisan achievement and a win for the country."
Biden, who said his priority taking office was to bring unity to this divided nation, evoked that in Lorain by mentioning the town's most famous daughter, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. In her seminal novel, "Beloved," she wrote: "Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow."
"Places like Lorain have a lot of proud yesterdays," Biden said. "Now you're going to have some brighter tomorrows — and because of all of you."