Joe Biden cherry-picks audience to promote bipartisan infrastructure deal

Joe Biden used a visit to a cherry farm in Michigan on Saturday to talk up his bipartisan infrastructure package and additional plans for investing in families and education. He also pitched his immigration plans when chatting with two couples from Guatemala who were picking cherries.

The Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, greeted Biden’s midday arrival in Traverse City, which is hosting the National Cherry Festival, an event that has attracted presidents in the past. As they toured the cherry farm in nearby Antrim county, Whitmer told reporters she had not spoken to Biden about any infrastructure projects for Michigan specifically.

“I’m the fix-the-damn-roads governor, so I talk infrastructure with everybody, including the president,” she said. In recent flooding, she said, the state saw “under-invested infrastructure collide with climate change”.

“So this is an important moment. And that’s why this infrastructure package is so important. That’s also why I got the president rocky road fudge from Mackinac Island for his trip here.”

Asked if the infrastructure package had enough money for electric vehicles, Whitmer suggested that more was needed.

“There’s so much investment that is going to have to happen to support electric vehicles … but we’ve got a lot more to do on this,“ she said.

Biden’s host at King Orchards, Juliette King McAvoy, introduced him to the two Guatemalan couples, who she said had been working on the farm for 35 years. He told them he was proposing a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers. Biden then picked a cherry out of one of their baskets and ate it.

The trip to Michigan was part of a broader campaign to drum up public support for the infrastructure package and other polices geared toward families and education.

The first lady, Jill Biden, was going to Maine and New Hampshire on Saturday, while Vice-President Kamala Harris was scheduled to visit a union training center in Las Vegas.

Biden has said the key to getting his $973bn deal passed in Congress involves taking the case straight to voters. While Republicans and Democrats squabble in Washington, Biden’s theory goes, lawmakers of both parties want to deliver for constituents.

Joe Biden looks at pies at King Orchards farm store, in Central Lake.
Joe Biden looks at pies at King Orchards farm store, in Central Lake. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

White House officials negotiated a compromise with a bipartisan group of senators led by Republican Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The agreement, announced in June, features $109bn on roads and highways, $15bn on electric vehicle infrastructure and transit systems and $65bn toward broadband, among other expenditures on airports, drinking water systems and resiliency efforts to tackle climate change.

It would be funded by Covid-19 relief approved in 2020 – unspent, repurposed money for enhanced unemployment benefits – and increased enforcement on wealthier Americans who avoid taxes. The financing also depends on leasing 5G telecommunications capabilities, the strategic petroleum reserve and the potential economic growth produced by the investments.

Biden intends to pass additional initiatives on education and families as well as tax increases on the wealthy and corporations through the budget reconciliation process. This would allow the passage of his priorities by a simple majority vote, avoiding the 60-vote hurdle in a Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.