Against the backdrop of a light November snowfall, President Joe Biden on Tuesday touted the role of New Hampshire’s current all-Democratic congressional delegation in passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill that he signed into law Monday.
Less than one year from the 2022 midterm elections and with half of that delegation considered vulnerable, the event illustrated that the electoral calculus in the Granite State could go a long way to determining how Biden’s legislative agenda is shaped in 2023 and beyond.
Flanked by Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen and Reps. Ann McLane Kuster and Chris Pappas, the president and New Hampshire Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan walked to a lectern set up in front of a structurally deficient bridge that carries Route 175 over the Pemigewasset River.
“The investment is sizable and much-needed, and we at the New Hampshire Department of Transportation are eager to get to work, advancing projects such as the rehabilitation of the bridge we’re standing on today,” Sheehan said before introducing Biden.
Sheehan was first nominated to lead the state transportation agency by then-Gov. Hassan, and she was renominated by current Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who last week announced he won’t run against Hassan for Senate. Among his reasons, Sununu said at the time, was the lack of impetus in his party for getting things done. Biden’s event provided a rejoinder to that as he sought to boost his party colleagues.
Biden highlighted Hassan first, telling the crowd: “Maggie was a key player in every aspect of this law. She’s led by getting bipartisan support. She made the case for making sure the law delivers high-speed internet everywhere in New Hampshire — which, as you know from the pandemic, is badly needed.”
During his remarks Tuesday, Biden also highlighted other provisions, including efforts to deal with the effects of sea level rise as well as, of course, the upgrades to roads and bridges.
Hassan appeared on CQ Roll Call’s most recent listing of the most vulnerable incumbent senators for 2022, and Pappas is also in jeopardy, in no small part because the GOP-led redistricting effort is aiming to make his seat more Republican.
“Passing this legislation is a critical first step towards restoring our infrastructure, including the 215 bridges and nearly 700 miles of roadway in poor condition in New Hampshire,” Pappas said in a statement afterward. “By rehabilitating our existing infrastructure while also making smart investments in our future, these funds will create jobs, boost our economy, and restore our competitiveness. As these investments are delivered I look forward to continuing to work with our communities to ensure our most pressing projects receive the funding they need.”
Gail Huff Brown, a Republican running for the seat held by Pappas, made the trip to Woodstock to record a video posted to Twitter shortly before the president’s arrival that criticized Biden for making the trip, though not the infrastructure law itself.
“He should be back in Washington dealing with our Americans left behind in Afghanistan,” Huff Brown said. “He should be dealing with our rising inflation, our porous border and the fact that our food prices are going up, up, up. Home heating oil, we’re going to be spending a lot of money this winter.”
A longtime local TV anchor, primarily in the Boston market that includes southern New Hampshire, Huff Brown is married to former Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown, a Republican who was an unsuccessful New Hampshire Senate candidate in 2014 but later became President Donald Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand.
Shaheen defeated Brown when he ran in 2014 and won reelection last year, so she is not on the ballot in 2022, but she also drew significant praise from the president.
“Jeanne, you know, it won’t surprise anyone here that you were the key member of this bipartisan group of senators that negotiated the infrastructure bill. Your calm, common sense, as usual, always leads the way, and I mean that sincerely,” Biden said.
“Getting this bill over the finish line wasn’t easy and it demanded lawmakers put our heads together and find common ground, but most critically: to trust each other,” Shaheen said in a statement. “And we did.”
In the statement, Shaheen highlighted her work on provisions with two Republican senators with ties to northern New England — Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, who was previously governor of Massachusetts — as well as lead Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
“I personally worked with Senator Collins on negotiations surrounding broadband, an issue that is significant in rural parts of New Hampshire, Maine and other communities across the country. I also worked with Senator Romney to revitalize our water infrastructure and Senator Portman on our energy efficiency provisions, which we’ve long fought to get through Congress,” Shaheen said. “The bipartisan infrastructure legislation is not only a historic achievement for our country, but also a poignant reminder of how Congress can and should operate.”
Biden’s trip to the Granite State kicks off travel across the country by the president, vice president and Cabinet officials to promote the new infrastructure law, according to a White House official. Biden will be in Detroit on Wednesday, with Vice President Kamala Harris stopping in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan is already on the road in Louisiana, and other top officials have trips planned for infrastructure-related events into Thanksgiving week.
The administrationwide effort seeks to replicate the kind of stagecraft at work last week during Biden’s stop at the Port of Baltimore and again Tuesday in New Hampshire, demonstrating the tangible benefits of investing in physical infrastructure.
Neil Levesque, the executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Manchester’s St. Anselm College, said both the Baltimore and Woodstock visits showcase a “backdrop that people can see and feel and understand.”
Levesque, whose political résumé includes work for former Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., said the decision by Sununu to seek another term as governor rather than challenge Hassan for the Senate does not change the reality of Hassan’s approval ratings, which are well below 50 percent.
The infrastructure bill, and an effective sale of it, could help that.
“The trick here is what tools does the White House have and the Democratic Party have to reverse that?” Levesque said of Hassan’s trajectory.
A presidential visit to tout the bipartisan infrastructure law would surely fit in that category, and the White House appears set to try to repeat the visual scene at venues across the country in the coming days.