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Biden zeroes in on the newly powerful House GOP as a threat to the rebounding economy

CNN 1/31/2023 Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden is fine-tuning his argument for reelection in an intensive stretch of travel and fundraising, homing in on the newly powerful House GOP as a threat to the rebounding economy as the pieces of his expected campaign come together.

With several weeks to go before Biden is expected to announce his intention to run again, White House officials have crafted a travel schedule and series of speeches that will see the president opening infrastructure projects, promoting union jobs and laying out the progress he believes the American economy has made under his watch.

“It’s about good jobs. It’s about the dignity of work,” Biden said Tuesday in front of a tunnel on the West Side of Manhattan that will be improved with the help of the $1 trillion infrastructure law he signed in 2021. “It’s about respect and self-worth. And folks, it’s about damn time.”

In a string of events along the eastern seaboard, from northern Virginia to Baltimore to Philadelphia to New York City, Biden is setting a multiple-days-per-week travel schedule that aides expect will continue as the presidential contest begins in earnest.

Last week, he told a steamfitters union hall in Virginia that his agenda was about “seeing communities all over America, not just on the coasts, but all over America, reborn.” He stood at another tunnel on Monday, this time in Baltimore, where improvements will help Amtrak trains triple their speed on one of the busiest rail corridors in the nation.

He also headlined a high-dollar Democratic fundraiser in Manhattan, kicking off what is expected to be a campaign cash blitz. Donors have been made aware of potential events over the coming months in multiple states, including traditional fundraising enclaves in California and Florida.

“There’s two things that I think we have to run on: What we stand for – what we did – and what we need to do more of,” Biden told the donors, offering a tacit preview of his 2024 message. Recalling that he ran in 2020 to restore the soul of the country, rebuild the middle class, and unite the country, Biden suggested his work wasn’t finished.

“The third is turning out to be the hardest thing to do, but we’re getting there,” he said.

On Friday, Biden will tout lead removal efforts in Philadelphia before addressing the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting – a gathering where his likely reelection bid is top of mind.

Speaking ahead of Biden in New York on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer underscored the progress Biden has made in implementing his infrastructure bill, readying a message that Biden has accomplished what his predecessor – and currently his only Republican challenger – Donald Trump could not.

“For four years, the former president was shoveling you know what. And now, we’re gonna put real shovels in the ground, wielded by real American workers,” Schumer said.

Biden’s aides and other Democrats have been working for months to put in place a campaign infrastructure that will be ready when he decides to make his intentions known. The campaign is expected to draw some staff from the DNC and the White House, and will need to coordinate with both.

Already, Biden’s West Wing team is reorienting with the upcoming departure of chief of staff Ron Klain. Klain’s replacement, Jeff Zients, is expected to focus on managing the White House and implementing Biden’s legislative and policy agenda, while other top advisers – namely senior adviser Anita Dunn and deputy White House chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, who managed Biden’s successful 2020 campaign – will take the lead on Biden’s political operation.

Other political hires are also expected as the likely reelection campaign takes shape, according to a White House official.

Casting a shadow over Biden’s preparations is the special counsel investigation into his handling of classified material, which is expected to formally get underway this week. Biden has denied any wrongdoing after documents with classified markings were found at his private office and home, but the specter of the probe will hang over the White House for at least the coming months.

White House aides have felt vindicated by polls showing the documents controversy hasn’t weighed down Biden’s overall approval ratings. And Biden himself shrugged off a question Monday about whether he would sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Hur.

“I don’t even know about the special counsel,” Biden told reporters at the White House, moving quickly to another question.

For now, Biden’s principal focus is next week’s State of the Union address, a speech his team has been crafting to act as a launchpad to his reelection run. His string of policy speeches this week have foreshadowed the expected themes of Tuesday night’s address.

Afterward, Biden is expected to continue traveling the country – including potential stops in Michigan and Wisconsin, two battleground states – as he prepares for his formal campaign announcement.

Officials said the yearly speech will continue to evolve as Biden and his advisers work on writing it. The text is not expected to be finalized until the final moments before he delivers it in the House chamber next week. The team working on the address, including senior advisers Mike Donilon and Bruce Reed, have held lengthy writing and preparation sessions with Biden over the last several days.

White House officials said the president’s recent speeches touting the bipartisan infrastructure law that he signed into law in 2021 are designed to signal a shift: whereas much of Biden’s first two years in office was focused on what he hoped to accomplish, officials said now is the time to tout what he has achieved.

The US jobs market is robust, GDP growth continues to be strong, wages are up, and critically, inflation finally seems to be moderating – all points Biden has made in his public remarks recently. In contrast, the president has warned that lawmakers who he calls “MAGA Republicans” are trying to reverse some of that very progress by proposing ideas like a national sales tax.

He’s also offered sharp warnings to Republicans looking to use the national debt ceiling as leverage to negotiate spending cuts – setting up a battle that will play out in the opening weeks of his campaign.

As Biden was speaking in Virginia last week, new Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wrote on Twitter that if Biden was “so eager to speak on the economy, then he should set a date to discuss a responsible debt ceiling increase.”

He’ll get that date this week, when Biden and McCarthy sit down at the White House for their first one-on-one since McCarthy was elevated to the role earlier this month.

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