Biden’s first work trip outside Washington since taking office signals his intent on making a public sales pitch for his agenda after spending nearly a month in the shadow of the impeachment proceedings, which ended in acquittal on Saturday. Aides say the President, known for his outgoing style with voters, has been eager to escape the White House.
“I wanted to go up because there’s a lot going on in Wisconsin,” Biden said as he departed the White House early Tuesday evening. “It’s cold as the devil up there, they’ve got a lot to deal with.”
White House aides insist his $1.9 trillion proposal is popular with a wide swath of Americans, including Republicans, even though Biden has not secured support from any GOP senators for the plan. By taking his pitch on the road, and fielding questions from Americans, they hope to highlight the relief the plan would bring nearly a year into the pandemic.
CNN has said the audience inside the Pabst Theater was invitation-only and would be socially distanced to adhere to Wisconsin’s public health regulations.
The President is expected to field questions on a number of issues as his administration, lawmakers and business leaders debate how to defeat the coronavirus while trying to bring a sense of normalcy back to people’s lives, including through the relief bill. The package includes direct payments to families of up to $1,400, money for state and local governments and more funding for vaccination efforts.
The White House hopes for final passage of the plan by mid-March, when certain unemployment benefits expire. House committees have begun writing individual sections of the measure before it is compiled into one bill. Democrats are using a procedural process that would allow it to pass by a simple Senate majority — which the Democrats hold — rather than requiring 60 votes to overcome an all-but-certain GOP objection.
Biden has been promoting the plan since before taking office, but last week the nation was preoccupied with Trump’s impeachment trial that unfolded on the Senate floor.
With pending civil cases and even criminal investigations against him, Trump is hardly gone from the picture altogether. In a statement following his acquittal on Saturday, Trump promised his supporters he had “much to share with you.”
Attempt to unify
But at least for now, Biden has the spotlight to himself as he works to advance his legislative agenda and begin his promised efforts to unify a badly divided nation.
That is welcome news, even to some who didn’t vote for him.
“I want to get past all this other stuff, get past the Trump stuff and just move on to what Biden’s going to do,” Caroline Quinlan, a Realtor in a northern suburb of Milwaukee, told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, reflecting on the tumultuous three-month roller coaster since the election. “He’s one of the last politicians, I think, who can cross the aisle and meet with people. I think that’s a big plus.”
Biden won Wisconsin by a slim margin in last year’s presidential election, reclaiming a state Trump had won four years earlier. Its centrality to his electoral strategy was illustrated by Milwaukee’s selection to host the Democratic National Convention.
“Wisconsin is a state where clearly there are Democrats, Republicans, independents, as we saw from the final outcome of the vote in November, people who have different points of view on a range of issues,” press secretary Jen Psaki said ahead of the trip in explaining its location. “It was a state where people have been impacted by the pandemic, they’ve been impacted by the economic downturn and the President felt that he could have a good conversation with people about the path forward and also even people who disagree with him.”
The visit to Milwaukee will be Biden’s first real trip as president, though he did travel home to Wilmington two weekends ago. He is likely to fly aboard the iconic jumbo jet typically used as Air Force One for the first time after using a smaller model to fly to Delaware.
Employing the traditional symbols of the presidency to advance his agenda is one of the perks of the job; Biden will use it again on Thursday when he travels to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to tour a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing facility.
The famously gregarious politician has been itching to get out of Washington and engage with the public, interactions that have been limited amidst the ongoing pandemic. A senior official said Tuesday’s trip would likely be the first of several as Biden continues to drum up support for the relief package.
“I think that’s what he’s most excited about doing this week,” the official said. “This is something that he wants to do and something that he’s excited about doing.”
Typically, new presidents lay out their legislative priorities in an address to a joint session of Congress, a State of the Union-like speech carried live on television and closely watched for signals of the administration’s priorities. Biden still intends to deliver such a speech once the Covid-19 relief package is passed, according to the White House, but doesn’t expect it to happen this month.
That’s later than typical, leaving the town hall and other upcoming events as Biden’s primary platform for advancing his agenda.