LAS VEGAS, Nev. — For at least a few hours, it was infrastructure week on the presidential campaign trail Sunday.
Predictably, former Vice President Joe Biden was entirely in his element as the kickoff speaker. “Amtrak Joe” got to talk about his interest in upgrading key rail infrastructure corridors.
“If you straighten out those three curves, you could get there in an hour-and-a-half,” Biden said of the potential for reducing travel on time on Amtrak between New York and Washington, D.C.
Trains were among the recurring themes of the “Moving America Forward” forum moderated by the Wall Street Journal, as were, of course, airplanes and airports.
Biden said if elected president he would sign legislation that would increase the federal airport passenger facility charge, as has been proposed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said likewise when asked about her willingness to support increasing the facility charges.
“I would be certainly open to that, and it hasn’t been raised for a long time, and we’d want to do it in a way that’s fair, but I hate the thought that our airports are lagging behind,” Klobuchar said. “I have a hub in Minnesota, so I’m well acquainted with the issues there.”
One issue she dealt with that she said she was sure the Las Vegas audience was familiar with was delays getting through security checkpoints run by the Transportation Security Administration.
“At some point it was so bad that I had to get the TSA to get in dog teams from Maui,” Klobuchar said. “The poor dogs had to go from Hawaii to Minnesota, to speed up our lines because we we’re having so much trouble.”
Back in March 2019, long before Klobuchar surged through the New Hampshire primary and came to be seen as among the frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, the senator pushed a trillion dollar infrastructure package as her top campaign policy priority.
A nonprofit advocacy group called United for Infrastructure played host to the Sunday afternoon event held on the campus of UNLV. The group is comprised of transportation and building trade unions, as well civil engineers, public transportation, highway and airport infrastructure groups.
In addition to Biden and Klobuchar, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and businessman Tom Steyer took part in the forum.
Trump at NASCAR race
President Donald Trump, the Republican they are hoping to oust, did a transportation event of his own Sunday in Florida, serving as grand marshal of the Daytona 500 and addressing a crowd of NASCAR fans after his motorcade arrived on the track.
“Rubber will burn, fans will scream and the great American race will begin,” Trump said near the end of his remarks, as the crowd chanted “U-S-A” and some chanted “four more years.”
Back in Nevada, Buttigieg said the country should be able to support a railway network that meets the same standards as other industrialized countries’.
“I don’t know why Americans should be tolerating inferior service”on railroads, he said.
There were plenty of transportation jokes, too. Biden talked about the criticism he has received over the years for the Amtrak station in Wilmington, Del., already having been named after him.
“They should name a whole damn line after me,” Biden said.
After the moderators noted to Klobuchar that expanded high-speed rail travel would likely be of greater interest to the coasts, the Minnesota senator highlighted the Empire Builder, a long-haul Amtrak route that runs daily from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.
Klobuchar offered reasons that she is a fan of rail travel.
“It’s one way that my husband and I can travel that we don’t have an argument about directions,” Klobuchar said.