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Biden visits Wisconsin as Gaza, Trump dominate public attention

President dings predecessor, calling project he touted ‘a con’

President Joe Biden speaks at Gateway Technical College in Racine County, Wis., on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden speaks at Gateway Technical College in Racine County, Wis., on Wednesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden was back in battleground Wisconsin on Wednesday pushing his jobs agenda, but his predecessor’s legal issues and Israel’s actions in Gaza hung over his visit.

Biden’s stop in the Racine area to announce a $3.3 billion project by Microsoft to build an artificial intelligence data center was part of a surreal week during which a key ally, Israel, defied his pleas to avoid sending military troops into refugee-packed Rafah in Gaza. It also came one day after a criminal jury and voters heard the first-ever accounts in a courtroom of an adult film star testifying about an alleged sexual encounter with one of the country’s 46 presidents, Donald Trump.

Polling shows why Biden was back in Wisconsin just one week after Trump was campaigning there. Trump had a 1.8 percentage-point lead there in the RealClear polling average Wednesday and a 2.8-point lead in the FiveThirtyEight average. Biden won the state in 2020, with GOP and Democratic strategists saying neither presumed nominee has a clear path to victory in November without the Badger State.

“I get called the most pro-union president in American history. And I make no apologies about that,” Biden said as his White House aides were touting the unionized construction jobs the Microsoft project is projected to create. “I’m serious.”

The massive Microsoft investment will be part of the area’s “comeback story,” he said, blaming, in part, Trump’s term of “trickle-down economics” that produced “broken promises” to the U.S. manufacturing sector.

While the president was in Wisconsin to announce Microsoft’s big investment, he has used previous trips to Wisconsin and other battlegrounds and potential battleground states to hand out federal funds. Biden and his team have paired multiple official White House events to announce grant awards under the bipartisan infrastructure and China competition laws with campaign fundraisers.

Some GOP lawmakers and strategists have criticized his early 2024 approach.

“You’ve got Biden literally flying around the country on Air Force One handing out money. I mean, talk about literally buying votes,” said one Republican strategist, granted anonymity to be candid. “He basically has no other choice. I mean, Trump is consistently leading in poll after poll after poll on the most important indicators.

“A good way to try to offset that is giving people, giving the voters, money,” the GOP strategist said. “Usually, the eventual winner has really won those indicator issues in April, May or June — not October. So President Biden knows he’s got to do something to get at that. Trump has the better hand to play right now: on the economy, on immigration, on the issues people care about the most.”

Foxconn in focus

Biden devoted part of his remarks Wednesday to those very issues but also dinged Trump over a failed and eventually scuttled $10 billion project by tech manufacturer Foxconn, including a vow by then-President Trump to create 13,000 jobs in the area. He spoke from the same Mount Pleasant, Wis., site where the Foxconn facility would have been erected.

“He came here with your [Republican] senator, Ron Johnson, literally with a golden shovel, promising to build the ‘eighth wonder of the world,’” Biden said. “Are you kidding me? … They dug a hole with those golden shovels, and then they fell into it. … Foxconn turned out to be just that, a con. Go figure.”

Like Trump, Biden typically makes his pitch on the economy during remarks in states like Wisconsin. For good reason.

“The economic misery index, for whatever reason, is just higher in these six or seven battleground states than in traditionally red or blue states,” the strategist said. “That’s just a reality.”

On economic matters, Biden said Trump, as president, made a lot of promises, especially to working-class Americans, but “broke more than he kept.”

Trump spent his Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom as adult film star Stormy Daniels testified in a criminal hush money trial, dominating the day’s media coverage despite Biden delivering an antisemitism speech and meeting with his Romanian counterpart at the White House. GOP pollster Frank Luntz told CNN on Tuesday that voters are telling him they will vote on issues, not the outcome of any Trump criminal case.

After that day’s proceedings, Trump contended that violent protests stemming from the Israel-Hamas conflict have been funded by “Biden’s backers.”

Once again, he appeared to be trying to further divide Democrats over the situation in Gaza, saying most of the protesters are “probably not Palestinians but agitators, bad agitators, really bad.” And Trump called for them to be treated “the same way as they do the J-6 hostages,” a reference to some of his supporters who have been arrested and convicted for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after leaving a criminal hush money trial in Manhattan on Tuesday. (Mary Altaffer/Getty Images pool photo)

Israel, meanwhile, pressed into Rafah despite Biden’s warnings to keep its military out of the refugee-laden area, closing another major border crossing through which humanitarian aid had been flowing — albeit slower than U.S. officials would like. That crossing, known as Kerem Shalom, reopened Wednesday under pressure from Washington.

‘Diplomatic solution’

Biden aides faced questions about Israel’s actions Tuesday and Wednesday before the president’s event.

Notably, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby described U.S.-Israel relations as “comfortable” multiple times when asked about the health of the alliance. Kirby, a retired Navy rear admiral who has held several top national security positions, said the U.S. side is “comfortable” having blunt conversations with Israeli officials. But he never called relations good or close, words often used by White House officials when asked about key allies.

The president spoke Wednesday amid reports that his administration recently paused an arms shipment to Israel over frustrations about humanitarian aid and Palestinian civilian casualties.

White House officials still want Israeli officials to do more to protect humanitarian aid workers inside Gaza, although the Israel Defense Forces have made progress in coordinating with such groups to avoid striking their employees, Kirby said Tuesday, adding, “There is a lot more work that needs to be done.”

Still, some Democrats want Biden to press harder to change Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mind and broker an end to the fighting.

“The reality is that Netanyahu has already destroyed a lot of the Hamas battalions. They are incapable, according to the military [intelligence] that I get briefed on, to do Oct. 7 again,” House Armed Services Committee member Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told Fox News.

“What’s going to work now is a diplomatic solution with new governance, and that involves our Gulf allies. It involves Egypt, Jordan and a solution,” he added. “And you’re not just going to be able to bomb your way into that solution.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a popular voice among the most liberal part of Biden’s base, echoed Khanna in a Wednesday statement, saying reports that Biden has frozen bomb shipments to Israel “must be a first step.”

“The U.S. must now use ALL its leverage to demand an immediate ceasefire, the end of the attacks on Rafah, and the immediate delivery of massive amounts of humanitarian aid to people living in desperation,” Sanders added. “Our leverage is clear. … We can no longer be complicit in Netanyahu’s horrific war against the Palestinian people.”

Netanyahu and his backers on Capitol Hill, however, contend there can be no victory over Hamas without a military offensive inside Rafah.

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