U.S. mayors at the White House hear praise from Biden on rebuilding post-pandemic
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to mayors from across the country during an event at the East Room of the White House on January 20, 2023 in Washington, DC. President Biden hosted mayors who are attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting at the White House to discuss bipartisan achievements. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden hosted more than 200 of the nation’s mayors at the White House on Friday afternoon, highlighting economic growth and the effectiveness of their bipartisan leadership as the country moves on from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to thank the mayors across the country for doing everything they can do to recover and rebuild,” Biden said in his speech to the 91st Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “More than any other group of people in the world, mayors know that the measure of success isn’t how many points you score, but how many problems you fix.”
Biden spoke to the ongoing recovery of American cities and towns under his administration, in light of challenges faced during the pandemic.
Biden praises Madison mayor
In Madison, Wisconsin, Biden said, the purchase of new electric buses will address climate change and improve public health. “Mayor Rhodes-Conway is buying 46 electric buses, replacing those dirty diesels — bad for the health of the environment,” Biden said to applause, adding, “It’s a big deal. … And it means our kids aren’t going to be inhaling that diesel fumes when they get off the bus. For real. It matters. Environmentally, it matters, as well.”
Madison’s planned bus rapid transit (BRT) system will be fully electric. The City placed an order for the zero emission buses in the summer of 2022. They are expected to begin arriving summer of 2023, while BRT will launch in 2024.
Transportation is responsible for about 40% of Madison’s greenhouse gas emissions and diesel exhaust is a significant contributor to childhood asthma and other health conditions, according to the mayor’s office.
Biden noted that two years ago, 80 million people were unemployed and 70% of mayors across the nation planned to cut jobs in critical industries, including teachers and transit workers.
Two years later, the president said that the effects of the American Rescue Plan and CARES Act are beginning to bear fruit. Biden said that the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, fewer than 1.6 million people are unemployed, and the economy has added 11 million jobs since 2020.
“It is clearer than ever that our plan is working — we’re rebuilding the economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” the president said.
Biden explained that the general framework of this spending reflects his administration’s aims to rebuild local economies across the country.
He said he reduced bureaucratic barriers for mayors to access billions of dollars in the American Rescue Plan, so cities can extend more mental health services, law enforcement resources and skilled trade programs.
“What we’re trying to do is not just rebuild the economy,” Biden said. “But bring back the pride, that sense of belonging, the sense of ‘I want to stay where I live.’”
Tennessee, Arizona mayors cited
Biden specifically highlighted the work of several individual mayors in using federal funding to pay for community safety improvements during the pandemic.
The president called attention to the work of Mayor Indya Kincannon of Knoxville, Tennessee, who provided premium pay for police officers and firefighters to retain staff during the pandemic.
He also commended Mayor John Giles of Mesa, Arizona, who purchased ambulances and hired behavioral health clinicians for crisis calls with American Rescue Plan dollars.
Biden also mentioned ongoing efforts to rebuild America through the bipartisan infrastructure law, working with Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to provide funding to build a bridge over the Ohio River, and with mayors Andre Dickens of Atlanta and Buddy Dyer of Orlando, Florida, to reconstruct airport terminals.
Biden said more than 20,000 infrastructure projects funded through the law will be underway by the end of 2023.
Biden further touched on the talent of American manufacturing workers and the success of the Chips and Science Act, praising the work of mayors Kate Gallego of Phoenix and Andy Ginther of Columbus, Ohio, in locking down major contracts to build large manufacturing plants.
“The economy rewards work where we don’t need a college degree to provide for your family,” Biden said.
“The Chip and Science Act will ensure the United States, not China, is leading the development of new technology,” Ginther said during his introductory speech for the president. “It has the potential to turn the old Rust Belt into the new Silicon Valley.”
Fentanyl, opioid epidemic
The president then talked about current challenges in immigration and the opioid epidemic, noting that more than 100,000 Americans died from fentanyl overdoses over the past two years.
Biden cited more than $5 billion provided by the federal government for state and local mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. Biden also vented frustrations over the partisan standstill in Congress over immigration reform, in discussing his trip to the U.S.-Mexico border two weeks ago.
“They (members of Congress) can keep using immigration to try to score political points, or we can try to solve the problem,” Biden said.
Biden also alluded to political posturing surrounding the national debt in response to a question from St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who asked how mayors could support Biden’s agenda.
“Be realistic and don’t confuse the national debt with debt reduction on a yearly basis,” Biden said. “Focus on the things that make your city unique and make you grow.”
In his concluding remarks to the mayors, Biden touted the abilities of the United States when the country works as a unit, from the individual mayor up to the top.
“We’re the United States of America,” Biden said. “When we work together, there’s nothing beyond our capacity. Nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Update: This piece was updated on Jan. 23 at 11:09 a.m. by Ruth Conniff with reporting on Biden’s comments on Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway
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