A rare scene unfolded Wednesday in Covington, Kentucky: President Joe Biden stood alongside Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as the two men promoted a major bipartisan legislative accomplishment they achieved together.
The president’s visit to McConnell’s home state to herald the implementation of the massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that McConnell and 18 other Senate Republicans voted for, and that Biden signed into law in 2021, marked his first domestic trip of the new year. The trip was aimed at sending an unmistakable message as Biden kicks off the second half of his first term: Even in a newly divided Congress, the Biden White House still sees room for bipartisanship.
Biden thanked McConnell for working across the aisle on the law.
“It wouldn’t have happened without your hand. It just wouldn’t have gotten done and I want to thank you for that,” Biden said to McConnell during his remarks.
He added that while he and McConnell don’t agree on a lot, the Kentucky Republican is someone you can trust.
“He’s a man of his word. When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank, you can count on it, and he’s willing to find common ground to get things done for the country. So thank you, Mitch. Thank you,” Biden said.
The scene was a stark message of bipartisanship and pragmatism sent by Biden and McConnell as the two old Senate colleagues came together at the same time that House Republicans found themselves falling further into divisive chaos over Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker. As Biden spoke in Covington, McCarthy suffered a fourth defeat in his push to lead the House of Representatives.
The backdrop for Biden’s visit was the Brent Spence Bridge that connects Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky, and is known to be one of the busiest freight routes in the country. Officials say the structure carries far more traffic than it is meant to support.
It’s also a bridge that Biden once promised he would overhaul: “We’re going to fix that damn bridge of yours going into Kentucky,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Cincinnati in the summer of 2021, as the infrastructure bill appeared to be on the cusp of passage.
On Wednesday, the White House announced more than $2 billion from the infrastructure law would go towards upgrading the Brent Spence bridge and other “economically significant bridges” around the country.
Biden’s trip to the Ohio-Kentucky border on Wednesday was also set to feature Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and former Republican Sen. Rob Portman, as well as Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
White House officials say that the show of bipartisanship is aimed at sending a clear signal that as Republicans take control of the House, Biden remains convinced that there will still be opportunities for bipartisan legislative wins.
The White House made it clear on Wednesday that they had no intention of getting involved in the drama playing out in the House. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with the president that the Biden administration is “going to let the process play out.”
“It’s not my problem. I think it’s embarrassing the way it’s taking so long,” the president told reporters as he left the White House Wednesday.
McConnell’s decision to appear with Biden on Wednesday also signals the GOP leader’s willingness to work alongside the president, even as many of his Republican colleagues in the House take a hardline stance against compromising with Democrats.
While White House officials regularly invite all congressional members to attend events Biden holds in their home states, Republicans frequently turn down the opportunity – making McConnell’s decision to join the president this week all the more notable.
Biden himself sought to downplay the importance of the pairing on Monday.
“We’ve been friends a long time. Everybody is talking about how significant it is. It has nothing to do about our relationship,” he said as he returned to the White House from his winter vacation in St. Cross. “It’s a giant bridge, man. It’s a lot of money. It’s important.”
McConnell, during his remarks ahead of the president, noted how the infrastructure law is an example of government working to solve problems for everyday Americans.
“If you look at the political alignment of everyone involved, it’s the government is working together to solve a major problem at a time when the country needs to see examples like this, of coming together and getting an outcome,” McConnell said.
Biden is set to convene his Cabinet Thursday to discuss implementation of the legislative victories of the first half of his first term – the first time he has convened his Cabinet since September, when the president urged his secretaries to implement key pieces of legislation and detailed his administration’s efforts to protect women’s reproductive health in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
A number of Cabinet officials are also traveling this week to promote the infrastructure law. Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in Chicago, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited New London, Connecticut, on Wednesday.
Over the coming weeks, Biden is expected to reiterate his bipartisan achievements in stops around the country as the Republican majority in the House begins its work, culminating in his annual State of the Union address. Biden’s aides have begun work on that speech and have made bipartisanship a central theme.
This story has been updated with additional developments.