Biden Allies Map Out Summer Plan to Aggressively Promote Infrastructure Projects

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In his first two years in office, President Biden managed to muscle through both chambers of Congress a $550 billion investment in American infrastructure, and another $50 billion in spending to boost microchip manufacturing on U.S. soil. They’re the kind of accomplishments a broad swath of Americans have long said they want to see out of their federal government.

But Biden’s job approval rating remains stuck in the low 40s, and administration officials suspect it’s partly because voters aren’t aware of many of the projects that are moving forward but will take years to pan out.

“When something is unambiguously good, you have to work 10 times harder to get attention,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells TIME.

In an effort to get credit with Americans now, Biden’s cabinet officials and campaign officials plan to fan out across the country this summer to aggressively promote the new bridges, roads, airport and broadband projects getting underway that may otherwise go unnoticed until their completion.

“We’re going to be on the road. We’re going to be drawing attention to this good work,” Buttigieg says. “The story is not going to tell itself.”

Buttigieg’s comments, made during an hour-long conversation with TIME correspondents and editors on June 9 in its D.C. bureau, are a tacit acknowledgement that the administration’s efforts so far in promoting the infrastructure law have not been as effective as they had hoped.

As President Biden makes fundraising swings through Connecticut, Northern California and Chicago in the coming weeks, his team is looking for ways he can leverage his record to energize big donors and get more credit with voters for the large investments in U.S. infrastructure and manufacturing he’s passed.

Biden’s cabinet secretaries and senior aides will also be working to highlight Republican lawmakers who tried to block the bipartisan effort but are now touting the funding that benefits their constituents. “Where appropriate, we’re going to be drawing attention to the contrast with legislators who described this as wasteful spending when we were trying to get it through Congress, but are just as happy as anybody else now that the spending is coming to benefit their communities,” Buttigieg says.

Projects that benefit a lot of people and don’t have a lot of opposition, by nature, don’t get a lot of attention, Buttigieg says. That was a lesson Democrats have learned in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and in the months following Biden’s signing of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a nearly $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. “The best things we’re doing, because it’s pretty hard to argue against them, don’t always sizzle, especially online,” Buttigieg says.

Buttigieg recalls seeing firsthand the challenges of promoting some of the sprawling measures Biden has signed into law. He was in South Bend, Indiana going on a run with a friend on a trail built on an old coal line. Buttigieg, who launched his 2020 presidential campaign while he was still mayor of South Bend, said he didn’t remember the trail being in the city parks plan and wanted to know how the new mayor got it done. Funds from the American Rescue Plan were used, his friend, a former city planner, told him. “That was a real wakeup call for me,” he says. “I’m a member of this Administration. I was the mayor of this city, and it was not obvious to me that I was benefitting from an asset created under the President’s leadership.”

Buttigieg notes that some of Biden’s accomplishments have had immediate impact, like pressuring pharmaceutical companies to cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 a month and expanding care for veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic substances under the PACT Act. But a new airport terminal, for example, usually takes years to complete.

That’s why Buttigieg and other Biden officials intend to talk more in the coming months about not only the future value of infrastructure projects, but the jobs being created by them now. “Even if it’s a few years before you are driving on that bridge, it may be just a few more weeks before your cousin’s got a job working on that bridge,” Buttigieg says.

Gallup polls in May found that 39% of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing and 18% are satisfied with the way things are going in the country.

Asked what Biden plans to do in the coming months to get more credit for the infrastructure investments, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday, “our focus is going to be the work: the work to get this done, the work to lower costs. And we know that there’s more work to do.”

Biden is the oldest president in US history, and he will be 81 on Election Day next year. His age remains a nagging concerns among voters. Buttigieg, who at 41 is among the youngest members of the President’s cabinet, says there was no question Biden remains sharp and physically fit, noting the way the President tackles cabinet meetings. “One of the things you always sense is a level of impatience on his part. He’s always kind of pulling us to do more.”

“He’s dialed in on the details,” Buttigieg continues. “but also very very focused on the big picture and applying a level of energy that moves through the administration, and certainly makes departments like mine feel accountable for matching the pace of his ambitions for the country.”

Asked how does Biden overcome a perception among half of Democrats that he’s too old to run for a second term, Buttigieg says, “by continuing to get the job done.”

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