U.S. President Joe Biden said the $550 billion infrastructure bill he signed will help propel sales of American-made electric vehicles like the battery-powered Hummers manufactured at the General Motors Co. plant in Detroit he visited on Wednesday.
Biden said the legislation, along with his Build Back Better proposal, would kick-start sales of vehicle batteries, parts and other materials. “We’re going to make sure the jobs of the future end up here in Michigan, not halfway around the world,” Biden said at the plant.
The bill includes not just $7.5 billion to build about 400,000 new electric charging stations, but billions more for roads, rail, and ports. The stakes are immense: White House officials are counting on the legislation to turn around perceptions that both the nation’s economic standing and Biden’s presidency are faltering.
Some 7 in 10 Americans say the economy is in bad shape, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last weekend. 55% say they disapprove of Biden’s economic performance, while his overall approval rating has plunged to just 41%.
White House officials have acknowledged the political toll that inflation is taking on the president’s political prospects. Thanks to post-pandemic supply chain bottlenecks and ravenous consumer demand, prices are rising at the fastest rate in three decades. A report released last week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said costs for energy and medical care were among factors pushing consumer prices up 6.2% last month, compared to the prior year.
Biden’s team maintains that months of congressional infighting over his signature legislative proposals — including a $1.75 billion social spending package still under negotiation — has made it difficult to promote their accomplishments.
“This law builds back our bridges, our water systems, our power lines, our electric grid better and stronger,” Biden said at the GM plant.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that promoting the new law provides Biden the opportunity to “be out in the country, connecting the agenda, the impacts on people’s lives, moving beyond the legislative process to talk about how this is going to help them.”
Biden has adopted a more sympathetic tone as he looks to win back suburban and female voters who helped propel him to the White House. At the bill signing, the president told Americans weary from the pandemic that “we hear you and we see you.”
Biden opened his speech on Wednesday by pointing out a spate of promising economic news, from retailer assurances that shelves would be stocked for the holidays to upward revisions in recent job reports. The effort to promote more positive data underscored the White House’s eagerness to improve a narrative that has hung heavy over the administration.
Other administration officials are expected to hit the road in the coming days to promote the infrastructure program. And the White House is trying to organize its daily messaging around touting the bill that’s been signed — not the particulars of the battle over the second leg of the president’s domestic agenda, a package of tax changes and climate and social spending called Build Back Better.
That means seeking backdrops like the one provided by the GM factory. The plant will provide new union jobs in a crucial swing state that flipped from former President Donald Trump’s column in 2016 to Biden in last year’s election. GM says the factory will eventually employ as many as 2,200 people.
GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra threatened to close it in 2018 as part of a restructuring, but instead repurposed it as part of the company’s push into electric vehicles.
The new line of Hummers are battery-powered — the first of what the automaker promises to be a broad array of electric trucks and SUVs to be built at the $2.2 billion facility known as “Factory Zero.”
Biden took a prototype electric Hummer for a test drive after touring the plant, once again indulged his love for fast cars,
“I’m an automobile guy. We used to have the second-largest GM plant in America in Detroit,” he told a worker at the plant after asking the woman to call him “Joe.”
Another worker told the president that the company’s new Hummer is “three times the weight of your Corvette and twice as fast.”
“Isn’t that incredible?” Biden responded.
In the plant’s expansive parking lot, Biden got into a prototype and gunned it twice, burning a little rubber the second time, before tearing off across the asphalt.
Biden’s visit offered him an opportunity to burnish his green credentials and celebrate the public-private partnerships he says are key to combating climate change.
GM announced in October plans to install up to 40,000 vehicle chargers across the U.S. and Canada, with a focus on underserved areas where charging access is limited. Barra has committed to spending almost $750 million to expand charging infrastructure and to spend $35 billion to make 30 new electric vehicles over the next four years.
She intends to offer a carbon-free lineup of cars by 2035. GM has a target of doubling revenue by the end of the decade by selling new electric models alongside its gasoline burners, as well as starting its self-driving taxi business and selling software-based services in the car.
The trip to the GM facility risks underscoring some of the headwinds facing Biden’s presidency.
His proposal to allow U.S. carmakers with union workforces to offer bigger tax credits for EV purchases than nonunion rivals has stirred controversy, as it would benefit companies like GM and Ford over Tesla Inc. and foreign manufacturers.
And automakers have been badly hurt by a microchip shortage after the coronavirus ravaged the workforces of major Asian chipmakers.
As a consequence, manufacturing delays have escalated prices for both new and used automobiles, and left many dealers with empty lots as they wait for production to increase. AlixPartners estimated that automakers globally will build 7.7 million fewer cars in 2021 than they would have without supply chain shortages — up from 3.9 million fewer in a May forecast.
White House officials have asked automakers and chip companies to turn over information this month about their semiconductor supply chains so the administration can identify and address bottlenecks. The U.S. is also hoping to roll out an early alert system to manage future semiconductor supply chain issues.
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