A bridge collapse Friday in Pittsburgh provided a symbolic backdrop for President Joe Biden’s trip to the city to tout his $1 trillion infrastructure plan — and try rebuilding his own crumbling approval ratings.
Arriving in the gritty city in Pennsylvania — a key battleground state in presidential elections — Biden motorcaded straight from Air Force One to the road bridge, which hours earlier had buckled into a snowy ravine.
“There are literally more bridges in Pittsburgh than in any other city in the world,” Biden pronounced. “And we’re going to fix them all. Not a joke — this is going to be a gigantic change. There’s 43,000 nationwide and we’re sending the money.”
Pittsburgh’s public safety authorities tweeted that three people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries after the collapse.
But the otherwise minor accident immediately caught national attention because of Biden’s visit for a speech on resetting the post-pandemic US economy, including through a historic infrastructure spending splurge.
Biden was set to tour Mill 19, once a massive steel mill which now houses Carnegie Mellon University’s Manufacturing Futures Institute (MFI), focusing on high-tech research and development.
“The president will talk about how his bipartisan infrastructure law is already strengthening in our supply chains and critical infrastructure — our roads, bridges, ports, airports and more — giving us an edge in producing more in America and exporting it to the world,” a White House official said.
Biden’s political woes
For Pittsburgh’s mayor, Ed Gainey, the Biden visit was welcome — a chance to home in on the kinds of problems plaguing post-industrial cities across the country, where bridges, highways, water pipes and other basic infrastructure typically have not seen upgrades for decades.
“This is critical that we get this funding and we’re glad to have the president coming today,” he told CNN.
In a tough first year in office, the infrastructure bill, passed with rare cross-party Republican support, was one of Biden’s biggest successes. For years, presidents had failed to get Congress to revamp the sector, with Donald Trump’s repeated promises of “infrastructure week” becoming a running Washington joke.
But Biden has faced heavy setbacks on other priorities, most recently his attempt to get new voting rights guarantees through Congress. He is also embroiled in the standoff with Russia over Ukraine.
Despite signs of a roaring economic comeback from the Covid-19 shutdown, the recovery is proving uneven and inflation is eating into wage increases.
As he kicks off his second year, Biden’s approval ratings have slipped to around 40 percent, making him as unpopular as Trump. And things risk getting worse, with Republicans potentially poised to take over Congress in the November midterms.
Reflecting Biden’s currently dimmed political star power, one important Democrat from Pennsylvania, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, pointedly kept away from the presidential visit, citing a scheduling conflict.
However, another high profile state official, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, did meet with Biden at the bridge site, apparently having resolved his own previously reported scheduling conflict.
Biden has said he hopes trips like this will help relaunch his momentum, heading into the midterms.
“I’m going to get out of this place more often,” he said during a press conference last week at the White House. “I’m going to go out and talk to the public.”