President Joe Biden used his first Minnesota visit since being elected to take a victory lap on the $1 trillion infrastructure package, promising an infusion of money to repair the state's roads and bridges, create construction jobs and "rebuild the backbone of this nation."
Standing on the floor of a heavy machinery shop at Rosemount's Dakota County Technical College on Tuesday, Biden painted a picture of a future where electric cars can be plugged in alongside highways and where every household in Minnesota has access to high-speed internet. He promised a state that's more resilient to wildfires, heavy rains and other major weather events caused by climate change.
"These are the jobs of today and tomorrow," Biden said. "We're going to help America win the competition in the 21st century. We're getting back in the game."
The infrastructure package Biden signed two weeks ago is projected to send billions to Minnesota for road and bridge repair, transit systems, water sewer systems and broadband access. His stop in Minnesota is part of a two-week tour through the country to trumpet the measure, as well as make the case for his broader domestic policy agenda, known as the Build Back Better Act, that has yet to clear the Senate.
Minnesota's congressional Republicans, none of whom voted for the infrastructure bill, criticized the president and his party in a Tuesday morning Zoom call, blaming his administration for higher inflation and rising energy prices.
"When President Joe Biden says he's coming to Minnesota to promote his failed policies, I was excited, so Minnesotans can see firsthand the crises that have come upon us," said Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber.
Among the many DFL officials joining Biden were Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Reps. Dean Phillips, Betty McCollum and Angie Craig, whose Second Congressional District includes Dakota County. DFL Rep. Ilhan Omar, who did not vote for the infrastructure bill, held a virtual town hall Tuesday and was not in attendance.
The White House projects that Minnesota's share of the legislation will mean $4.5 billion for highways and about $300 million for bridges within a five-year span. The state is also expected to see at least $100 million for broadband, over $800 million for public transportation and $680 million for water projects.
"These students are looking forward to all those jobs, which we know are out there right now," Klobuchar said before Biden's remarks. "We're not going to have a shortage of sports marketing degrees, we're going to have a shortage of … construction workers, and plumbers and electricians."
Before his remarks, Biden toured the heavy machinery facilities on campus, peppering students with questions about what kinds of programs are offered for both truck driving and advancements in electric vehicles.
He promised the technical college students that the Build Back Better Act will increase financial aid to help them "carry the load you have to carry."
"Places like this are going to train the next generation of workers to do the jobs that my infrastructure law and our Build Back Better Act are going to put into even greater demand," Biden said. "We're going to need more qualified people, and we're talking about students learning how to repair electric vehicles and batteries and drive trucks."
The visit comes at a critical time in Biden's first year as president. He won Minnesota last fall by 7 percentage points, but a Minnesota poll from September found voters here are now more divided on his job performance. Several congressional races in Minnesota, including the Second District where he visited Tuesday, are being targeted by national Republicans as they try to take back the House in next fall's midterms.
"No question, he's here to try to shore up the faltering campaigns of Angie Craig and Gov. Walz," state Republican Party Chairman David Hann said Tuesday. "But I think the fact that they are choosing to link themselves so closely to the failed policies of the Biden presidency are going to mean that for Minnesotans, they're going to have a clear choice next year."
Democrats hope the construction and jobs generated by the infrastructure bill will be signs for years to come of the accomplishments of the party. But Biden acknowledged the ongoing challenges of his administration, including the battle against the pandemic. He promised to lay out a plan later this week to fight variants of COVID by encouraging vaccinations, not lockdowns.
The jobs and construction from the infrastructure bill will help build the economy back from the pandemic from the "bottom up and middle out," he said.
"This law does something truly historic, it's going to help rebuild the backbone of this nation, working people and the middle class," Biden said. "The hardworking, middle class folks, working class folks who built the country."
Staff writer Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.