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  29 Jan 2022, 10:13

At collapsed bridge, Biden envisions rebuilding America

PITTSBURGH, Jan 29, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - A bridge collapse Friday in
Pittsburgh provided a symbolic backdrop for President Joe Biden's trip to the
city to tout his $1 trillion infrastructure plan -- and try rebuilding his
own crumbling approval ratings.

   Arriving in the gritty city in Pennsylvania -- a key battleground state in
presidential elections -- Biden motorcaded straight from Air Force One to the
road bridge, which hours earlier had buckled into a snowy ravine.

   "There are literally more bridges in Pittsburgh than in any other city in
the world," the Democrat pronounced. "And we're going to fix them all. Not a
joke -- this is going to be a gigantic change. There's 43,000 nationwide and
we're sending the money."

   Pittsburgh's public safety authorities tweeted that three people were
hospitalized with injuries that were not life threatening. But Biden's visit
threw the otherwise minor accident into the national spotlight.

   In a speech later, Biden said rebuilding infrastructure, while completing
a painful shift from old-school, heavy industry to high-tech jobs, would
restore American economic leadership in an increasingly competitive world.

   "Right here in Pittsburgh, the future is being built on the foundation of
the city's storied past," he said at a once massive steel mill, which now
houses Carnegie Mellon University's Manufacturing Futures Institute -- a hub
for research and development.

   Flanked by "Building A Better America" signs, Biden said Pittsburgh had
lost 100,000 steel jobs between 1970 and 1990 and that he knew "the painful
ripple effect it had -- jobs lost, families ripped apart."

   His push for investment in semiconductors, electric vehicle technology and
other forward-looking products would restore that manufacturing base, he
said.

   "To build a truly strong economy we need a future that's made in America.
That means using products, parts, materials built right here in the United
States of America. It means bringing manufacturing back, jobs back, building
a supply chain here at home -- not outsourcing abroad," he said.

   - Biden's blue collar target -

   Entering the second year of his administration, Biden says he hopes trips
like this will help relaunch momentum ahead of November midterm elections,
where Republicans are currently well poised to win control of Congress.

   His speech went through many of the themes that got him elected in 2020,
appealing to the blue collar voters whom former president Donald Trump and
the Republicans have worked hard to lure from their historic Democratic
loyalties.

   In a tough first year in office, the infrastructure bill, passed with rare
cross-party Republican support, was one of Biden's biggest successes. For
years, presidents had failed to get Congress to revamp the sector, while
Trump's repeated promises of "infrastructure week" became a running
Washington joke.

   But Biden has faced heavy setbacks on other priorities, most recently his
attempt to get new voting rights guarantees through Congress. He is also
embroiled in the standoff with Russia over Ukraine.

   Despite signs of a roaring economic comeback from the Covid-19 shutdown,
the recovery is proving uneven and inflation is eating into wage increases.

   Biden's approval ratings have slipped to around 40 percent, making him as
unpopular as Trump.

   Reflecting Biden's currently dimmed political star, one important Democrat
from Pennsylvania, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, pointedly kept away
from the presidential visit, citing a scheduling conflict.

   However, another high profile state official, Lieutenant Governor John
Fetterman, did meet with Biden at the bridge site, apparently having resolved
his own previously reported scheduling conflict.

   For Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, the Biden visit was certainly welcome -- a
chance to home in on the kinds of problems plaguing post-industrial cities
across the country, where bridges, highways, water pipes and other basic
infrastructure typically have not seen upgrades for decades.

   "This is critical that we get this funding and we're glad to have the
president coming today," he told CNN.

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