Image for Analysis: Biden Touts Infrastructure Investment at Portland Pit Stop

President Biden’s stopover in Portland last week was more pit stop than presidential tour. He spoke, he walked and he touted, but his main reason for being here was to help Oregon’s congressional delegation raise campaign cash. The fundraiser was a sellout.

This was Biden’s first visit to Oregon in his presidency and it served as an appetizer for a follow-up visit in Washington state. Both stops are part of Biden’s transcontinental effort to boost Democratic chances to retain control of the House and Senate in the 2022 election, against the odds of midterm elections favor out-of-power parties. Biden’s stubbornly low approval ratings have raised concerns that Republicans will regain control of the House and possibly the Senate.

When Biden speaks, you can hear the frustration. He has presided over a successful economic recovery, sharply increased employment, pushed through massive infrastructure investment legislation and put the coronavirus on its heels. He also has unified Western allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet, he suffers from the “what have you done for me lately?” attitude of voters frustrated with rising inflation.

After being greeted by Governor Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon’s congressional delegation, Biden spent 30 minutes talking with local reporters about how much Oregon will receive from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill he promoted and Congress passed. He highlighted $211 million to modernize Oregon airports, $34 million to stabilize the Coos Bay Jetty, $100 million to expand broadband access and more than $700 million to improve roads and bridges. Oregon also will receive more than $200 million earmarked by Congress for 149 projects.

“Oregon and America have gone from being on the mend to on the move,” Biden said. “We’ve just gotta get the hell out of our own way.” 

In times gone by, this kind of news would have earned rave applause and high praise. Elections have been won with far less legislative success. Meanwhile, Democratic political strategists are holding their heads in disbelief Americans overlook Biden’s legislative achievements in the face of fierce inflation.

The President avoided any direct reference to replacing the I-5 Columbia River Bridge, which may qualify for mega-project federal funding, but also still attracts environmental objections and debates over light rail.

Biden pressed for congressional passage of legislation to bolster investment in semiconductor research and domestic production, which undoubtedly would benefit Intel, Oregon’s largest manufacturing employer, and other players in the technology supply chain. He stumbled a bit by ballyhooing Intel’s decision to stand up a huge chip manufacturing facility in Ohio and failed to acknowledge Intel’s just completed $3 billion investment in Oregon, which remains its flagship high-end manufacturing center.

Still, pretty big stuff with significant local impact.

Biden addressed the issue giving Americans a political rash inflation. He described his actions to ease the price of gas and blamed rising costs on President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The longer-term solution, Biden said, is to reduce dependency on oil by moving to renewable energy alternatives and promoting public transit. Then he shook hands with union workers who stood near him when he spoke.

Democratic political strategists are holding their heads in disbelief Americans overlook Biden’s legislative achievements in the face of fierce inflation.

After a walk around Portland International Airport, Biden was whisked off to the nearby Portland Yacht Club for a fundraiser. He assumed a more political tone in ridiculing the proposed Senate GOP agenda offered by Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott and predicting Democrats would pick up two more seats in the currently deadlocked 50-50 Senate.

Biden reassured the fund-raising crowd he won’t send US troops into Ukraine, even as earlier in the day he announced a second $800 million arms tranche for the besieged republic and prepared to ask Congress this weekend for even more military aid.

Republicans, who weren’t invited to the pit stop or fundraiser, complained Biden has failed to curb rising gas prices or rein in street crime. Many GOP detractors waved pro-Trump flags outside the Portland Yacht Club where Biden spoke to the Democratic faithful.

As he boarded Air Force One for the short hop to Seattle, Oregon politicos were left to ponder the fate of the I-5 Columbia River Bridge, which Biden didn’t visit on his brief trip to Oregon. The aging bridge, which is a major bottleneck on I-5 on the West Coast, remains a lightning rod of conflict. Environmentalists say modernizing freeways only encourages more traffic. Local officials pondered whether the addition of light rail and Portland freeway tolls would undermine what appears to be restored support for bridge replacement.

Perhaps the telling moment of the President’s brief trip was the conclave of youth climate activists gathered at Harriet Tubman Middle School, near where a proposed expansion of I-5 is envisioned. The students protested highway expansion that could increase traffic and carbon emissions. By then, Biden was in the air headed to another stop and another fundraiser.