President Biden on Monday signed a sweeping $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems and broadband, touting the measure’s passage as evidence for his insistence that bipartisanship can work even in a bitterly polarized time.
The event was carefully choreographed to back up that point, with congressional Republicans who helped negotiate the bill sprinkled throughout the hundreds of seats. GOP leaders including Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Bill Cassidy (La.) and Susan Collins (Maine) mingled before the event.
The chief Republican negotiator on the bill — Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) — was tapped for a prime speaking spot ahead of Biden’s remarks. “This is what can happen when Republicans and Democrats decide we’re going to work together to get something done,” Portman said.
But the limits of bipartisanship were starkly evident. While Biden thanked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for supporting the bill, McConnell was notably absent from the ceremony.
Democrats gleefully noted that Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, had failed to deliver an infrastructure bill. And Vice President Harris urged passage of a separate, nearly $2 trillion measure that would invest in climate priorities and the social safety net. That legislation is opposed by all Republicans in Congress.
“This legislation — as significant as it is, as historic as it is — is part one of two,” Harris said. “The work of building a more perfect union did not end with the railroad or the interstate, and it will not end now.”
Still, Biden appeared almost giddy as more than 800 lawmakers, governors, mayors, union members and others gathered on the South Lawn of the White House. The president referred to quarrels among Democrats that have brought down his approval ratings, seeking to refocus attention on the fact that he had delivered results.
“I know you’re tired of the bickering in Washington, frustrated by the negativity, and you just want us to . . . focus on your needs, your concerns,” Biden said.
The ceremony, while it had the look of an old-fashioned White House event, took place at a turbulent moment. Even as Biden launches a tour to sell the benefits of the infrastructure package, Trump and his supporters are directing their rage at the Republicans who voted for it, in large part because they gave Biden a political win.
Some of the Republicans who voted for the bill opted not to attend. Trump has said Republicans who voted for the measure — 19 senators and 13 House members — should be “ashamed of themselves” for “helping the Democrats.”
Several House Republicans who backed the legislation have been threatened and harassed. Last week, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) released the audio of an expletive-filled phone call in which a man in South Carolina called him a “traitor” and said he hopes the congressman, his staff members and his entire family die.
Other Republican lawmakers — notably Trump loyalist Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Madison Cawthorn (N.C.) — have joined in criticism and attacks against their colleagues who backed the bill.
Greene, a House freshman who has previously accosted fellow members at the Capitol, said before the bill’s passage that any House Republican who backed the measure would be “a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters and a traitor to our donors.”
After the vote, Greene tweeted the names and phone numbers of the 13 Republicans who voted in favor of the bill, which she described as “Joe Biden’s Communist takeover of America.”
Those who attended the ceremony tried to make the case that bipartisanship was nevertheless alive and well. Portman, for his part, sought to bridge the gap by giving Trump credit.
“By making infrastructure a real priority in his administration, President Trump furthered the discussion and helped Republicans like me think differently about the positive impact of investment in core infrastructure,” he said.
But he also pushed back — mildly — against those attacking the Republicans who helped craft the bill. “Finding common ground to advance the interests of the American people should be rewarded, not attacked,” Portman said. Some House Democrats grumbled when Portman criticized the social spending measure.
In her remarks, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the main Democratic author of the bill, praised Collins and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), calling them “the Wonder Women of our group, always focused on the practical outcomes.” (Shortly after negotiations over the bill were successfully concluded, Sinema gifted stemless wine glasses emblazoned with the Wonder Woman symbol to the other female negotiators.)
Biden avoided mention of the vitriol that Trump and his supporters have aimed at the Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill. At one point, he praised Portman as a “hell of a good guy,” then quipped: “I’m not hurting you, Rob, because I know you’re not running again.” Portman is retiring from the Senate next year.
The infrastructure package is in some ways a throwback to the measures that Congress used to pass that gave lawmakers of both parties projects they could boast about back home.
Within moments of the signing, Republicans and Democrats issued news releases detailing the projects that will be built in their home states and districts. Collins said the bill would provide $225 million to Maine for bridge construction, maintenance and repair.
The Senate passed the infrastructure bill in August on a bipartisan 69-to-30 vote, but the measure languished in the House for months, as liberal lawmakers sought to use their leverage to advance Biden’s larger climate and social spending bill.
The bill finally passed the House earlier this month on a 228-to-206 vote, with 13 Republicans joining with most Democrats in voting “yes.” The House is aiming to pass the separate “Build Back Better” measure this week, although passage in the Senate could take far longer.
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden “invited everybody who supported it, because he felt that was the right thing to do.” She added, “Whether people come or not, that’s their choice.”
Biden announced he had named former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu to coordinate the infrastructure plan’s implementation, ensuing that the money is spent with a minimum of waste.
Although many of the audience members came from Capitol Hill, several others — including governors — came from across the country. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) was in attendance, as were Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, both Republicans.
McConnell, who drew Trump’s wrath by voting for the bill, was the most notable absence. The reason, he told a Kentucky radio station last week, was “other things I’ve got to do.”
Mariana Alfaro, Jeff Stein and John Wagner contributed to this report.