WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden zeroed in Thursday on economic issues as he fine-tuned his closing argument in upstate New York for voters trying to cope with raging inflation and fears of a recession heading into the Nov. 8 election.
Biden's visits to a congressional battleground in Syracuse and then to Philadelphia on Friday are part of a strategic two-step crafted for a persistently unpopular president: promote his administration’s accomplishments at official White House events while saving the overt campaigning for states where his political power can directly bolster Democratic candidates.
The White House of late has paid outsize attention to Pennsylvania, where Democrats are aggressively contesting a Republican-held Senate seat to help offset potential losses in other marquee Senate races.
“The previous president left a string of broken promises in places like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, where promised investments in jobs and manufacturing never materialized," Biden said, criticizing former President Donald Trump and Republicans for their economic policies. “On my watch, ‘Made in America’ isn't just a slogan, it’s a reality."
Biden got a boost on the news Thursday that the economy grew at a better-than-expected 2.6% annual rate from July through September, overcoming inflation and interest rates and snapping two straight quarters of economic contraction.
“For months, doomsayers have been arguing that the U.S. economy is in a recession and congressional Republicans have been rooting for a downturn,” Biden said in a statement. “But today we got further evidence that our economic recovery is continuing to power forward. This is a testament to the resilience of the American people.”
Biden jogged over to reporters before he left for New York and said it was a "Great economic report today – GDP report — things are looking good.”
In Syracuse, Biden showcased a significant investment by the U.S.-based company Micron, one of the largest microchip manufacturers in the world. The company has credited a new law boosting domestic production of semiconductors for its new facility that will create 50,000 jobs, which will pay an average of $100,000 a year.
“This is going to be massive," Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra told Biden, showing off a model of what the facility would look like in 20 years. “This is going to be the largest investment in semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S."
Biden called it the "largest American investment of its kind, ever, ever, ever in our history" and said the announcement was "the latest example of my economic plan at work."
He warned against GOP proposals that he said would raise drug prices for older people and cut taxes on corporations. Biden also cited comments by Republicans suggesting they would use the debt limit as leverage in negotiations with the White House should they retake the majority in Congress.
“They’re determined to cut Social Security, Medicare and they’re willing to take down the economy over it,” Biden said.
Publicly, the White House and senior Democratic leaders express optimism that they’ll defy traditional midterm headwinds and retain control of Congress. But in private, there is angst that the House will be lost to Republicans and that control of the Senate is a coin flip.
It’s a position that Democrats point out is far more favorable than earlier in the election cycle — particularly before the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade ended constitutional protections for abortion and upended the political landscape — yet many in the party are nonetheless bracing for the loss of at least one chamber.
The president has had a steady uptick in travel in recent weeks, although he has avoided states such as Nevada and Arizona in which Democratic candidates prefer not to be tagged with the national party brand. He has appeared with a smattering of vulnerable House Democrats at official White House events in California and New York and raised campaign cash for candidates in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oregon, as well as millions of dollars for the Democratic National Committee at fundraisers in Washington and elsewhere. He held a trio of virtual fundraisers Wednesday night for congressional candidates in Iowa, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
A reception scheduled for Friday in Philadelphia with the state Democratic Party, which Vice President Kamala Harris will also attend, will mark Biden's 15th visit to Pennsylvania during his presidency. Plans for a joint appearance in the state with former President Barack Obama are in the works for next week.
Also next week, Biden is scheduled to headline a political rally Tuesday in Florida. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist has been publicly encouraging the president to campaign with him in a state that has increasingly trended toward Republicans in recent election cycles.
Biden sought to use the Micron event to hammer home a closing message aimed at framing the contrast between the two parties’ economic agendas — an argument that the president began sketching out at a Democratic National Committee event earlier this week.
“Everybody wants to make it a referendum, but it’s a choice between two vastly different visions for America,” Biden said of the midterms. “Democrats are building a better America for everyone with an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out, where everyone does well. Republicans are doubling down on their mega MAGA trickle-down economics that benefits the very wealthy."
He continued: “It failed their country before and will fail it again if they win.”
In recent weeks, Biden has used the presidential bully pulpit considerably to promote Democratic accomplishments. But there’s some concern among Democrats that voters are not connecting economic growth in their communities often enough to what a Democratic-controlled government has completed during the first two years of Biden’s presidency.
“I think we have to be far more aggressive,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. “We’re actually bringing jobs back, but we’re not going out enough and acknowledging people’s anger and fear and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing.’”
The Syracuse area is home to a House race for a seat being vacated by moderate Republican Rep. John Katko, a critical pickup opportunity for Democrats in a district that Biden won by more than 7 percentage points in 2020. Biden’s visit could also give a boost to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, whose reelection contest against Republican Lee Zeldin has tightened in recent weeks.
Cabinet officials are fanning out nationwide to promote the administration’s economic message. For instance, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to Cleveland on Thursday to talk about Biden’s manufacturing agenda with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The retirement of his Republican colleague, Sen. Rob Portman, has led to another critical Senate race, this one between Republican J.D. Vance and Democrat Tim Ryan.
According to a White House tally, through Friday, members of Biden's Cabinet will have gone to 29 states and Puerto Rico on 77 separate trips, with about half focused on amplifying Biden's economic message.