COVINGTON, Ky. — President Biden on Wednesday announced $2 billion in new spending to upgrade the nation’s most economically vital bridges, lauding the rollout as a powerful symbol of bipartisanship in Washington as he enters the second half of his administration with a divided Congress.
Mr. Biden‘s remarks at the Brent Spence Bridge spanning the Ohio River between Kentucky and Ohio kicked off his administration’s broader implementation of a bridge investment program funded by the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill he signed in November 2021.
“I wanted to start off the new year at this historic project here in Ohio and Kentucky with a bipartisan group of officials because I believe it sends an important message to the entire country: we can work together,” Mr. Biden said. “We can get things done. We can move the nation forward if we just drop a little bit of our egos and focus on what is needed in the country.”
“For decades, people have talked about the Brent Spence Bridge,” he said. “But folks, talk is over. With the bipartisan infrastructure law, we’re finally going to get it done.”
The Brent Spence Bridge, designed when it opened in 1963 for 80,000 vehicles a day but now carrying almost twice that amount, serves as a fitting symbol of Mr. Biden‘s call for nationwide infrastructure improvements.
The aging span has been used by politicians for years to highlight the urgent need for infrastructure spending.
In 2011, President Obama stood near the Brent Spence as he called on Republicans to support a jobs package that would have included funds to fix similar bridges in disrepair.
In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump proposed cutting “billions of dollars in global payment to the United Nations” to replace the bridge.
Mr. Biden pledged in 2021 to “fix that damn bridge of yours” during a CNN town hall in Cincinnati.
The bridge, which connects Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky, also highlights the importance of infrastructure improvements for keeping the American economy afloat.
Freight crossing the Brent Spence accounts for 3% of the nation’s economy, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
The infrastructure law provides $40 billion to repair and rebuild more than 15,000 bridges nationwide, including 10 of the “most economically significant bridges in the country,” according to the White House.
Nearly 43,000 bridges nationwide are in poor condition, according to White House figures.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, joined Mr. Biden‘s roadshow in his home state, making the event a rare bipartisan gathering as the president enters the second half of his administration with the GOP in control of the House.
“Leader McConnell and I don’t agree on everything,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. “In fact, we disagree on a lot of things. But here’s what matters: He’s a man of his word. When he gives 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.”
The GOP leader, who shared a ride to the bridge with Mr. Biden, has faced pushback from some conservatives who viewed his presence as little more than a “publicity stunt” for Mr. Biden.
“There’s nothing to celebrate about a woke, bloated infrastructure law full of waste, labor union handouts, and green giveaways,” said former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. “Republicans shouldn’t play center stage in Biden‘s publicity stunt.”
Mr. McConnell, who was one of 19 Senate Republicans to back the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, defended his appearance alongside the president, telling reporters on Tuesday that it was “important for me to be there.”
“This is a bridge that has been a major national issue for 25 years, my top transportation project for decades,” he said. “And it’s going to be fully funded by the infrastructure bill, which I supported.”
Mr. Biden pulled off his display of bipartisanship as House Republicans strained for a second day to choose a speaker.
Democrats are likely relishing images of the House frozen by GOP infighting juxtaposed with those of Mr. Biden standing with the top Senate Republican to laud a bipartisan win.
“Biden is absolutely sending a message to the American people that there are people you can trust to govern,” said a Democratic insider. “And then there’s the House Republican caucus.”
In addition to Mr. McConnell, Mr. Biden was joined by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican; Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat; Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat; and former Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and newly elected Sen. J.D. Vance, Ohio Republican, declined White House invitations to attend the event.
In addition to Mr. Biden‘s visit to Kentucky, administration officials are fanning out to several cities to tout new funding for bridge improvement projects as part of the rollout of the bridge improvement program.
Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting Chicago to tout bridge projects in the city. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is visiting the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in New London, Connecticut. White House adviser Mitch Landrieu will visit the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
• Harris Alic contributed to this story.