TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — President Joe Biden stayed mum on policy during a Saturday trip to Michigan, focusing instead on cherries — and cherry pie and cherry ice cream — and voters who were mask-free as coronavirus restrictions have eased. It had all the hallmarks of a campaign stop that he couldn’t make last year.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer greeted Biden when he arrived midday in Traverse City, which is hosting the National Cherry Festival, an event that attracted Presidents Herbert Hoover and Gerald Ford in the past.

They skipped the festival, however, in favor of a cherry farm in nearby Antrim County, where Biden pitched his immigration plans when chatting with two couples from Guatemala who were picking fruit. He then greeted a long line of enthusiastic supporters stretched out behind a rope.

His trip was billed as part of a broader campaign by the administration to drum up public support for his bipartisan infrastructure package and other polices geared toward families and education. But the president was out for direct contact with voters and refrained from delivering remarks about his policy proposals.

Whitmer told reporters she spoke to Biden about infrastructure, although not about any projects for Michigan specifically.

Joe Biden cherry-picks audience to promote bipartisan infrastructure deal

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” and the freeways were under water.

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,” she said.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow also said she spoke with the president about the infrastructure package as they toured the cherry farm, noting that her phone signal dropped to one bar and that the proposed broadband buildout was needed.

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. He later bought pies at the farm’s market, including three varieties of cherry.

Before leaving Michigan, he stopped in at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream in Traverse City, where he bought Cherries Moobilie cones for Stabenow and Gary Peters, Michigan’s other Democratic senator. But for himself it was vanilla with chocolate chips in a waffle cone.

Told it was cherry country, Biden said, “Yeah, but I’m more of a chocolate chip guy.”

First lady Jill Biden also was on the road Saturday, traveling to Maine and New Hampshire, while Vice President Kamala Harris was visiting a union training center in Las Vegas.

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

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 $109 billion on roads and highways, $15 billion on electric vehicle infrastructure and transit systems and $65 billion 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 that was approved in 2020 but unspent, repurposed money for enhanced unemployment benefits and increased enforcement by the IRS on wealthier Americans who avoid taxes. The financing also depends on leasing 5G telecommunications spectrum, 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 Biden’s priorities by a simple majority vote, avoiding the 60-vote hurdle in a Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Biden visits Michigan to tout bipartisan infrastructure plan

President Biden traveled to Michigan on Saturday, as part of his ongoing efforts to promote a bipartisan infrastructure proposal, and his plans for investing in child care, health care and education.

Accompanied by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, Mr. Biden toured a cherry orchard at a fruit farm in Central Lake. He landed in nearby Traverse City earlier on Saturday, which is the site of the National Cherry Festival this week.

Key members of the administration are traveling over the holiday weekend to rally support for the infrastructure proposal and Mr. Biden’s policies. First Lady Jill Biden is in Maine and New Hampshire on Saturday, and Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting a union training center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mr. Biden previously touted the infrastructure plan in a trip to Wisconsin last week, saying that it will provide historic investments in roads, bridges, clean drinking water and rail.

The infrastructure proposal was negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators and endorsed by the president in June. The package would cost nearly $1 trillion over five years, with $579 billion in new spending. Legislative text for the proposal has not been released, but there is a basic framework with a breakdown on spending and proposed methods of paying for it.

The bill will be narrowly focused on “traditional” infrastructure, like roads, bridges, improving railways and expanding broadband. It would spend $312 billion for transportation, including $109 billion for roads, bridges and major projects, $49 billion for public transportation and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail. It also dedicates smaller amounts to safety, airports, electric buses and electric vehicle infrastructure — a priority for Mr. Biden.

The proposal also includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $73 billion for power infrastructure and $47 billion for resiliency.

A White House fact sheet said some of the funding will come from redirecting unused unemployment insurance relief funds and other unused money from the most recent coronavirus stimulus bill, which Mr. Biden had initially opposed. Other funding streams will come from allowing states to sell or purchase unused toll credits, extending expiring customs user fees, 5G auctions proceedings, the selling of petroleum reserves,public-private partnerships and tax gap enforcement.

The president has also pledged to support a reconciliation bill that will include his priorities on so-called “human” infrastructure, such as child care and health care. A reconciliation bill only needs a simple majority to pass, meaning that it can be approved without any Republican support.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders is currently crafting the budget resolution and estimates the reconciliation bill could cost as much as $5 or $6 trillion, depending on what’s included in the bipartisan proposal. But any reconciliation bill will also need the support of moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who is reluctant to consider a bill over $2 trillion.

Meanwhile, the House voted last week to approve a separate $715 billion five-year transportation bill that shares some similarities with the bipartisan proposal.

Rich Lowry: Republicans should abandon the bipartisan infrastructure deal

They have nothing to gain by blessing a portion of President Joe Biden’s spending plans, when an ungodly amount of money is going to go out the door regardless of whether they vote for a chunk of it or not.

So far, the bipartisan infrastructure deal is going through the normal life cycle of such proposals — alive, dead, revived, uncertain.

For Republicans, the best answer should be dead.

They have nothing to gain by blessing a portion of President Joe Biden’s spending plans, when an ungodly amount of money is going to go out the door regardless of whether they vote for a chunk of it or not.

The conventional wisdom is that the Senate has to prove that it can work, and the test of its functioning is how much of Biden’s spending Republicans endorse.

This is a distorted view of the Senate’s role, which shouldn’t be to get on board a historic spending spree for which Biden won no mandate and which isn’t justified by conditions in the country (it’s not true, for instance, that the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling).

Besides, if bipartisan spending is the test, the Senate just a few weeks ago passed a $200 billion China competition bill by a 68-32 vote. It used to be that $200 billion constituted a lot of money, but now it doesn’t rate, not when there’s $6 trillion on the table.

The infrastructure deal lurched from gloriously alive to dead when Biden explicitly linked its passage to the simultaneous passage of a reconciliation bill with the rest of the Democratic Party’s spending priorities in it.

Then, it revived again when Biden walked this back, and promised a dual track for the two bills.

The fierce Republican insistence on these two tracks doesn’t make much sense and amounts to asking Democrats to allow a decent interval before going ahead with the rest of their spending — Democrats are going to try to pass a reconciliation whether the bipartisan deal passes or not.

In other words, at the end of the day, there’s only one track.

The calculation of Republicans supporting the deal is that a significant bipartisan package can take some of the heat off of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema in their resistance to eliminating the filibuster.

A deal that passes and is signed into law will certainly be a feather in their caps, but it’s hard to believe they’d change their minds on the filibuster if the deal fell apart.

They are both so extensively and adamantly on the record in favor of the filibuster that a climb-down would be politically embarrassing and perilous.

Republicans supporting the deal also think that it will make passing the subsequent reconciliation bill harder. First, the parts of infrastructure that have the widest supportroads and bridges — will be in the deal and not in the reconciliation bill. Second, the unwelcometax increases excluded from the bipartisan deal will be in the reconciliation bill.

This isn’t a crazy calculation, although it’s not clearly correct either. The higher the top-line number is for the reconciliation bill, the harder it will be to pass. By allowing Democrats to cleave off some spending into a bipartisan deal, the overall number for the reconciliation bill gets smaller. In other words, the bipartisan deal could make the partisan reconciliation easier, rather than harder, to pass.

It’s not as though Biden is fiscally prudent on all other fronts except in this one area which he considers a particularly important national investment with unmistakable returns. No, he’s universally profligate. His reckless spending on all fronts (except defense) makes it more imperative for Republicans to stake out a position in four-square opposition.

The bipartisan deal is hardly exemplary legislation, by the way. It resorts to all the usual Beltway gimmicks to create the pretense that it’s paid for, when it’s basically as irresponsible as the rest of the Biden spending.

Bipartisanship has its uses, but so does partisanship. Joe Biden wants to be known for his FDR- and LBJ-like government spending, believing that it’s the key to political success and to an enduring legacy.

Fine. Let him and his party own it.

Infrastructure success could help keep swing Pa. districts — and the U.S. House — blue

Democratic Reps. Matt Cartwright and Susan Wild are top GOP targets. Their political future could hinge on the success of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, if it ever becomes law, won’t just construct new bridges, tunnels and highways — it could also help cement the Democrats’ House majority for another two years.

This dynamic is particularly pronounced in northeastern Pennsylvania, where Republicans see a pair of seats held by vulnerable Democratic incumbents as ripe for pickup and redistricting threatens to inject additional uncertainty into the high-stakes midterm elections.

Reps. Susan Wild, whose 7th Congressional District encompasses the Lehigh Valley and its cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, and Matt Cartwright, whose 8th Congressional District includes Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, each won re-election in 2020 by fewer than 15,000 votes.

Both are banking on the passage of Biden’s revised, bipartisan infrastructure plan, which would bring critical projects and jobs to their districts that the lawmakers, as well as political strategists, say will bolster their chances at keeping the seats — and the House — blue in 2022.

I don’t mean to sound too quaint about this but I honestly believe the way I navigate my race is by producing results,” Wild said.“That includes infrastructure projects.”

Shane Seaver, a political strategist who previously worked as a campaign manager and staffer for Cartwright, said government initiatives that make the “business base” stronger in northeastern Pennsylvania will get voters’ attention.

“The main focus in these districts has always really been jobs and investments in the districts,” he said. “That will now prominently include infrastructure.”

Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, elected twice by Pennsylvania voters, said: “The [Covid-19] relief bill was popular in these districts. The infrastructure bill will be popular in these districts. They just need to get it through.”

But if the bill dies — and worse yet, if redistricting cracks either of these districts — Wild and Cartwright could lose. Because Republicans need to flip only a few seats across the country to take control of the House, that could result in the Democrats losing their narrow majority.

Vulnerable incumbents

The GOP is already targeting the districts.

Wild won re-election to her district, a mix of small cities, suburbs and farmland that is mostly white but has a growing Latino population, by just 14,000 votes (51.9 percent to 48.1 percent) in 2020. Biden carried the district. Cartwright, whose majority-white district includes large stretches of farmland and rural areas, won his by just 12,000 votes (51.8 percent to 48.2), even though then-President Donald Trump carried his district, which Biden claims as his birthplace, 51.7 percent to 47. 3 percent. (The nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s 2021 partisan voter index rates the 7th District as “even” and the 8th as “R+5,” meaning the GOP has the advantage).

The National Republican Congressional Committee promptly included them on its list of districts to target for flipping in 2022.

“Between redistricting and House Democrats having to defend Biden’s toxic agenda, these seats are ripe for us to pick up,” Samantha Bullock, a spokeswoman for the committee, said in an interview.

She said Democrats in close races, such as Wild and Cartwright are expected to face, will have a lot to answer for, whether or not the infrastructure package is enacted.

They’re signing on to all of this legislation blindly. They’re out there touting the American Recovery Act, and the American Jobs Plan, but the real-life impacts have been, and will continue to be, a worker shortage, higher taxes and rising costs on everyday goods.”

In any case, Bullock added, infrastructure is “far from a done deal.”

Historically, the president’s party tends to lose seats in midterm elections. This cycle could be no different, and several different factors will shape how the two races in northeastern Pennsylvania affect the outcome.

Infrastructure looms large — if Democrats can pass it
Biden’s American Jobs Plan— currently bogged down in partisan bickering and fragile negotiations — would, if signed into law, authorize hundreds of billions of dollars for new infrastructure projects across the United States.

In the 8th District, that would likely include a substantial upgrade to the district’s beleaguered sewer and drainage systems, whose faultiness has played a role in increasingly frequent and devastating flooding in the region. In the 7th, it would likely include an expansion of broadband access to the rural areas of the district.

In both, it would likely include improvements to roads, tunnels, bridges and, most notably, the possible construction of long-talked-about Amtrak passenger lines that would connect, separately, both Scranton and Allentown to New York.

Cartwright, in an interview with NBC News, made no bones about how much that would help him.

There is sort of an institutional memory in my area of what it means to have someone high up in the House Appropriations Committee and having someone being able to secure our fair share of federal funding for northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Cartwright, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. “It’s a playbook I’ve been following. It puts me in a position to help out here, to make sure northeastern Pennsylvania gets its fair share of money, for infrastructure or social services or education, including passenger rail.”

“It’s a kind of clout our area hasn’t had in a few generations and I think people in our area appreciate it,” he said.

Both rejected that arguments made by Republicans tying the large spending bills pushed by Biden to inflation will resonate with voters.

“A year-plus of pandemic has reset voters’ thinking about the role of the federal government in producing solutions. It has redirected people away from conventional talking points about excessive government spending,” Wild said. “The cost of infrastructure is so easily recouped by the good that it does in the community and the jobs it creates and the advantages to our local economies.”

Those advantages, however, will only be seen if the bill works out.

“Bringing home the bacon has a lot of value in it,” acknowledged Republican strategist Mark Harris, a veteran of Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s successful 2010 and 2016 campaigns.

“That said, government spending is tied to inflationary pressure. So if inflation continues to rise, it doesn’t matter how many highway interchanges and passenger rail connections you build, people will be livid they’re paying more for milk and bread and gas and coffee.”

Harris added that electoral success in the two districts will likely, as it did in large part in 2020, go to the party that can best reach suburban voters.

Redistricting a major open question
Further complicating the two races is how redistricting might reshape the political landscape. Because the 2020 census identified a decline in its population, Pennsylvania will lose a House seat before 2022.

In Pennsylvania, the new congressional district map will be proposed by a state legislative redistricting commission and then must be passed by both of the state Legislature’s Republican-controlled chambers and signed by its Democratic governor. There is no explicit deadline for passing a new congressional map, but experts say it must occur before a March 2022 candidate filing deadline. If lawmakers can’t reach a compromise, the state Supreme Court is likely to get involved, experts said.

While it remains unclear how the districts will be redrawn, making them cover more ground — a likely outcome, given that the state is losing a seat — would likely be advantageous to Republicans.

“The fact that Pennsylvania is losing a seat puts Democrats at a disadvantage, period,” Bullock said.

Republican strategists said several prospective candidates were waiting to see how the districts changed before they decide to run. In the 7th, businesswoman Lisa Scheller, who narrowly lost to Wild in 2020, has already declared her candidacy and is likely to remain the front-runner for the GOP nomination, politics-watchers said. (Scheller’s campaign declined to be interviewed). In the 8th, only Teddy Daniels, a retired police officer and Trump acolyte, has so far jumped in for Republicans.

Regardless of who formally opposes the two incumbents, Democrats maintained the races will come down to whether infrastructure projects were delivered.

“These are cities like many other areas across the country that have aging infrastructure, areas where the economic future is directly tied to how much we invest in things that help deliver basic needs to our residents,” said Matt Tuerk, a Democrat who upset Allentown’s incumbent mayor and the city’s all-but-certain next leader. “Anyone around here understands the need for better infrastructure and the simple idea of supporting the people who help deliver it.”