DEFOREST, Wis. — President Joe Biden praised labor unions and touted his economic agenda Wednesday in a speech to hundreds of workers at a labor training center near Madison.
Biden’s appearance at the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) in DeForest was his first public engagement since delivering his State of the Union address to a divided U.S. Congress Tuesday night, where he promised an economy built “from the bottom up and the middle out.”
The president reiterated his “blue-collar blueprint” to rebuild U.S. infrastructure with union jobs and promised to repair a “hollowed out” middle class in a 25-minute speech Wednesday.
“Wall Street did not build this country,” Biden said. “The middle class built the country, and unions built the middle class.”
Gov. Tony Evers, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and District 8 Ald. Juliana Bennett were in attendance as Biden touted Wisconsin infrastructure projects funded by legislation passed during his first two years in office.
Those projects include replacing a pair of freeway bridges over the Wisconsin River in Columbia County, port facility upgrades in Racine and Green Bay, and 46 electric buses purchased for Madison’s forthcoming East-West bus rapid transit line, which broke ground in December, according to the Cap Times.
“It’s all happening due to the president’s leadership and partnership,” Rhodes-Conway told the crowd before Biden spoke.
Biden also said he plans to stimulate U.S. manufacturing by introducing requirements for federal construction projects to use American-made materials.
“My economic plan is about investing in people [and] places that have been forgotten,” Biden said. “Where is it written America can’t lead the world in manufacturing again?”
He referenced an employment report released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that found the U.S. added 517,000 jobs as the unemployment rate fell to 3.4%, the lowest measure since 1969.
“The Biden economy is working,” the president said.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate currently sits below the national average at 3.2% after the state added 60,000 jobs last year, according to the latest data from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
Madison’s unemployment rate is 1.6% — the lowest of any metro area in the nation, per BLS data.
Despite the positive jobs report, Wisconsin faces an impending worker shortage. The state is estimated to lose 130,000 residents of prime working age by 2030 as young people leave for states with warmer climates and lower income taxes, leaving employers without enough employees to replace retiring baby boomers.
Campus community members, politicians react
Biden’s speech Wednesday earned largely positive remarks from several UW-Madison students in attendance. Freshman Whitman Bottari felt Biden’s focus on non-college career options demonstrated a “deep respect” for trade workers in unions.
“College isn’t an option for so many Americans,” Bottari said.
UW-Madison College Democrats Chair Maggie Keuler was glad Biden chose to visit Wisconsin first after the State of the Union.
“It was a really impactful way to show how his policies have had a real impact here,” she said.
Keuler said a standout moment from Wednesday was when Biden pulled out past comments against Social Security and Medicare from Republican lawmakers, including Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.
Biden accused some Republicans of wanting to let Social Security and Medicare “sunset” out of existence during Tuesday’s State of the Union, drawing boos from Republicans in Congress.
“They sure didn’t like me calling them on it,” Biden recounted Wednesday.
Biden shouted out Wisconsin manufacturers that received over $4 billion in federal funding since he took office, according to the White House, including California-based genetic medicine company Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals.
Missy Hughes, Secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, said she was “delighted” to hear President Biden recognize Arrowhead’s $220 million expansion into Verona. Arrowhead estimates the project will create over 200 new jobs, according to the Verona Press.
In response to Biden’s visit, Republican state party leaders said Biden did “nothing to improve his standing with Wisconsin voters.”
“Wisconsin’s households and businesses have faced crushing inflation, decreasing real wages and increasing energy bills for months,” WisGOP Chair Brian Schimming said in a statement Wednesday. “Trying to buy voters with his inflationary spending and Green New Deal agenda isn’t the answer to helping Wisconsin families.”
U.S. inflation steadily cooled from 9.1% to 6.5% during the second half of 2022, according to recent BLS data. However, the nation’s annual inflation rate remains more than three times higher than Federal Reserve recommendations, and gas prices remain over a dollar higher than when Biden first took office, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) retweeted a Schimming statement calling Biden’s speech a “traveling economic medicine show” that ignored inflation. Schimming referenced an Associated Press poll released Monday that found just 37% of Democratic respondents wanted Biden to seek a second term.
Biden delivers State of the Union to divided Congress
Biden’s visit comes a day after he delivered the annual State of the Union speech to lawmakers in U.S. Congress, which focused heavily on affordability, police reform and foreign relations.
Foreshadowing his speech in DeForest, Biden promised to promote labor union rights and domestic manufacturing with an economic agenda that would continue reviving “once-thriving cities and towns” in middle America.
“Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible,” Biden said. “That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind.”
Amid privacy concerns over TikTok and other social media apps, Biden also asked Congress to pass legislation imposing stricter limits on personal data collected by tech companies.
“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” Biden said.
Gov. Tony Evers banned TikTok from state devices last month, citing security and privacy concerns. The ban includes devices owned by the University of Wisconsin System.
Other policies Biden introduced or supported yesterday include:
- Raising the debt ceiling
- Eliminating credit card “junk fees”
- Capping insulin at $35 for all Americans
- Banning non-compete agreements
- Investigating fraud of COVID-19 relief funds
- Banning assault weapons
- Codifying Roe v. Wade
- Passing the Equality Act
Biden will travel to Tampa, Florida on Thursday to speak about his plans for Medicare, Social Security and lowering healthcare costs.
News manager Hope Karnopp contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 8:26 p.m. to accurately reflect attribution for a tweet from Brian Schimming. The tweet was previously attributed to Robin Vos.
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @tk_kutz.