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Amid House GOP tussle, Biden and McConnell make nice

Both touted the bipartisan infrastructure law with a crumbling bridge as a backdrop

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during an event Wednesday to tout the bipartisan infrastructure law in front of the Brent Spence Bridge in Covington, Ky.
President Joe Biden shakes hands with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during an event Wednesday to tout the bipartisan infrastructure law in front of the Brent Spence Bridge in Covington, Ky. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

As Rep. Kevin McCarthy struggled to wrangle enough votes from fractious Republican lawmakers to become speaker, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared confident enough in his GOP leadership role to appear with two top Democrats — President Joe Biden and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio — in announcing projects funded by the mostly bipartisan infrastructure law.

The bipartisan trio appeared Wednesday in Covington, Ky., before a bridge that has provided more than one failed infrastructure photo op: the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project, connecting Ohio and Kentucky. It has become the second-worst truck bottleneck in the nation, according to the American Transportation Research Institute, and carries more than $700 billion worth of freight every year.

Appearing with McConnell to tout the law allowed the White House to send its own message that a bipartisan, work-together-to-get-it-done attitude in Washington is not out of reach.

“Mitch, it wasn’t easy to get this done,” Biden said at the announcement. “We have to find common ground, common ground to get major legislation done in any circumstance ever. … Leader McConnell I don’t agree on everything. In fact, we disagree on a lot of things, but here’s what matters. He’s a man of his word … and he’s willing to find common ground to get things done for the country.”

The law provided over $1.6 billion for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project, which  includes a companion bridge to the west of the original bridge as well as improvements to the current bridge and the roadway network that ties into each bridge. McConnell said he reached out to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg directly to secure funding for the project.

“This doesn’t just benefit us in Ohio and Kentucky, but this is one of the big projects to deal with the crumbling infrastructure in the country that we’ve all been talking about for years,” McConnell said at the announcement. “If you look at the political alignment of everyone involved in this, it’s the government working together to solve a major problem at a time when the country needs to see examples like this.”

The new funding greenlights the project to break ground by the end of this year, with completion projected for 2029 at a total cost of $3.6 billion.

Biden’s team spread across the U.S. for similar infrastructure investments — Vice President Kamala Harris joined Illinois Democrats Sen. Richard J. Durbin and Rep. Robin Kelly in Chicago to announce new bridges across the Calumet River; Buttigieg met with Democratic Connecticut Sens. Christopher S. Murphy and Richard Blumenthal in New London, Conn., to unveil funding for the Gold Star Memorial Bridge; and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu appeared in San Francisco to announce funding for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Leadership fight

The McConnell-Biden bipartisan messaging comes during a tense, dayslong fight in the House to choose the chamber’s next speaker — a process that’s become delayed as a handful of Republicans refuse to elect McCarthy, R-Calif., preventing McCarthy and any other speaker candidates from achieving a 218-vote majority.

The backdrop of the crumbling Brent Spence Bridge echoes an appearance in 2011 by President Barack Obama, who used it in efforts to sway Republicans to back his American Jobs Act. “There’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects,” Obama said in a Sept. 22, 2011, speech in Cincinnati. “Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America.”

Obama failed to pass the legislation in a divided Congress, as Republicans in control of the House opposed the legislation.

President Donald Trump also made promises to fix the bridge during his time in office, but he was later criticized by former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley for never addressing it.

Biden is now the third consecutive president to use the beleaguered bridge as a symbol of America’s need for infrastructure investment. In a July 2021 town hall in Cincinnati to support the infrastructure law, Biden promised to “fix that damn bridge of yours in Kentucky.”

“After years of politics being so divisive, there are bright spots across the country,” Biden said. “The Brent Spence Bridge is one of them.”

It’s likely the White House scheduled the funding announcements for early January to secure bipartisan messaging amid the House securing its Republican majority. But as Republicans in the House struggle to pick their leader, the funding announcements also signify success among Democrats who, after nearly 20 years, were finally able to “fix that damn bridge.”

“[Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio] couldn’t be here today, he’s dealing with trying to figure out who’s gonna be the next speaker of House Representatives. … I wish him a lot of luck,” Biden said, getting a laugh from the crowd.  

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