President Joe Biden is expected to highlight his administration’s infrastructure spending and efforts to fight climate change and lower prescription drug costs during a two-day visit to Portland and Seattle beginning Thursday.
Biden’s Earth Day appearance in Seattle on Friday — his first since becoming president — will come at an important time for his climate agenda as his administration makes a renewed push to try to gain Senate approval of a $550 billion package to cut carbon emissions.
It also comes at a fraught political moment for Biden and congressional Democrats trying to stave off a looming Republican wave in the midterm elections that could lead to GOP majorities in the House and Senate.
Biden’s Pacific Northwest swing will start with a visit to Portland on Thursday, where he’s scheduled to tout benefits from the $1 trillion infrastructure measure signed into law late last year.
The president will arrive at Portland Air National Guard Base at 12:40 p.m., according to the White House. He’ll visit nearby Portland International Airport to highlight infrastructure investments such as an earthquake-resistant runway at the airport and deliver a speech promoting the benefits of such spending.
After attending a political fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, Biden is scheduled to fly to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, arriving at 5:15 p.m. He’ll attend another DNC fundraiser in Seattle Thursday night, according to the White House.
On Friday, Biden is scheduled to attend two Seattle-area events. One will highlight Democrats’ efforts to lower prescription drug costs — a theme Biden has emphasized in his State of the Union speech and other recent appearances, calling for caps on insulin costs and for Medicare to be given authority to negotiate drug prices.
A second, Earth Day-focused event will include Biden signing a climate-related executive order, according to a Democratic aide with knowledge of the president’s Seattle schedule, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the event publicly.
Full details of the president’s Seattle itinerary had not been released by the White House as of Wednesday afternoon. No public events have been announced. Such visits typically bring some traffic disruptions as stretches of roadway are temporarily blocked to make way for the presidential motorcade.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and other elected Democrats were expected to join Biden at his Seattle-area appearances. Murray, one of the top Democrats in the Senate, is seeking a sixth term this fall. In a statement Wednesday, she emphasized efforts by Democrats “to pass policies that will lower everyday costs for families on everything from child care to prescription drugs — all fully paid for by just making the very wealthiest and giant corporations finally pay their fair share.
“I’m glad President Biden shares my commitment to fight inflation and lower costs for Washington state families, and I’m glad he’ll get the chance to hear directly from the people of our state,” Murray said.
Republicans, meanwhile, are using Biden’s appearances to flag his low job-approval ratings and tag Democrats as responsible for the largest spike in inflation in decades, which has Americans paying more for gasoline, groceries and other necessities.
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, said in a statement Wednesday that Biden’s visit “shows that Democrats are in trouble, and they know it.” He criticized Murray and U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, who is facing a tough reelection fight with multiple GOP challengers, as marching in “lock-step” with Biden’s “unpopular” agenda.
“Inflation is at a crushing 8.5%, real wages are down and Washington families are struggling under the effects of Biden’s inflation driving policies,” Heimlich said.
Biden’s efforts to tamp down inflation while also tackling the grave threat of climate change have come into some conflict in recent months.
During his campaign for the presidency, Biden set out an ambitious goal for his administration to set the stage for a shift away from fossil fuels that could enable the United States to reduce carbon emissions to a net of zero by 2050.
In his Seattle appearance, Biden plans to speak about his efforts to expand the clean energy economy, in part, with the help of funds contained in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure legislation that Congress approved last year, according to the White House and media reports.
But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put a new spotlight on boosting U.S. oil production to ease soaring gas prices that have been a key driver of inflation.
On March 31, Biden announced the U.S. would be releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Last week, the federal Interior Department announced it would again auction leases to drill for gas and oil on public lands, which would mark the first such sales since Biden became president and, according to administration officials, was made necessary by a court ruling.
When the Senate reconvenes next week, environmentalists are hoping the Biden administration can pivot to put the congressional focus back on passing the package of tax incentives and other measures to develop alternatives to fossil fuels. The prospects are uncertain for the Senate passage of this legislation in the run-up to the November elections, when Republicans are striving to take back control of Congress.
“There is a window here for opportunity. This is probably the last best chance we have to meet the moment to confront the climate crisis at the scale and the speed it demands,” said Sam Ricketts, co-founder of Evergreen Action, an organization advocating for federal legislation to cut carbon emissions. “A final deal will require compromise. But that’s what leadership demands. And it’s incumbent on the President to use Earth Day, his time in Seattle and the next few weeks to ensure this gets done.”
Senate approval of the legislation is expected to require the support of Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who balked at a measure proposed last year to give financial incentives to electric utilities to switch off of coal and gas. “I think they [Senate Democrats] can do something but it has to be modest in nature or they are not going to get Manchin on board,” said Frank Maisano, a Washington, D.C.-based communications specialist with Bracewell LLP, with clients that include renewable and fossil fuel companies.
In remarks to reporters earlier this week, White House spokesperson Jennifer Psaki said the White House has backed a reconciliation package that would include a historic investment in climate. “We’re talking to everybody across the board” about this legislation, she said.
Biden’s efforts to push the federal government to the forefront of climate change action mark a dramatic reversal from the policies of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump. Trump started the process to withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the international effort to limit climate change, and Biden on his first day in office signed an executive order to have the nation rejoin. Biden has a number of other executive actions to reduce carbon emissions, including increasing automotive fuel-efficiency standards this spring that had been eased by the Trump administration.
“President Biden has definitely turned things around. You know, we had four years of a climate denier in the White House. It was incredibly damaging. And now Biden has put climate change back on the agenda,” said Alexandra Adams, senior director for federal affairs of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Yet a recent forecast by the federal Energy Information Administration still predicted that oil and natural gas would remain “the most consumed” U.S. fuels through 2050. That forecast was based on laws and regulations in place as of 2021, and did not factor in any “potential national legislation” that could pass through the projection period, according to a spokesperson for the Energy Information Administration.