WASHINGTON - In a show of preemptive counter-programming, President Joe Biden on Tuesday traveled to Wisconsin to highlight his economic policies in a state critical to his reelection fortunes, just a week before Republicans descend on Milwaukee for the party’s first presidential debate.
His arrival in Milwaukee comes on the eve of the anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, major economic legislation that he signed into law with great ceremony but polls show that most people know little about it or what it does.
Wisconsin is among the handful of critical states where Biden needs to persuade voters that his policies are having a positive impact on their lives, and he is expected to visit frequently to make his case.
Biden toured Ingeteam, a clean energy manufacturer of onshore wind turbine generators in Milwaukee, and will talk up provisions of the law that spends hundreds of millions of dollars to boost domestic manufacturing and clean energy, lower health care costs and crack down on wealthy tax cheats.
Ingeteam plans to hire 100 workers using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law money to start producing EV charging stations domestically, according to the White House.
Also timed to Biden’s trip, multinational tech firm Siemens is set to announce that it will start manufacturing solar inverters in Kenosha County, a move prompted by increased demand brought by the tax incentives from the IRA law.
Administration officials say the trip is aimed at recognizing the effects of the law, which passed Congress on party-line votes.
Ahead of his speech, Biden met with Democratic state leaders, military members and shook hands with families awaiting his arrival at the Milwaukee International Airport Air National Guard Base.
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined the Ingeteam event, and praised IRA investments in Wisconsin. "We should invest in American businesses and American jobs," she said.
According to the White House, in Wisconsin, private firms have committed more than $3 billion in manufacturing and clean energy investments since Biden was sworn into office.
Critics of the legislation say provisions of the law could end up increasing inflation. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said during a virtual Peterson Institute for International Economics event in July that while he supported the IRA, the Biden administration’s overall economic agenda is "increasingly dangerous."
"I am profoundly concerned by the doctrine of manufacturing-centered economic nationalism that is increasingly being put forth as a general principle to guide policy," Summers said.
Vice President Kamala Harris and top Cabinet officials will be fanning out across the country this week to talk about the Inflation Reduction Act and its provisions. Biden has scheduled an anniversary event at the White House on Wednesday.
The president’s stop in Wisconsin comes shortly before Republicans hold their first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23. Former President Donald Trump — the leading Republican candidate in polls — has yet to say whether he will boycott or hold a competing event.
Charles Franklin, director of Marquette Law School Poll, said the trip could help Biden win support from independents, who make up about 10% of voters in the state.
"What he really needs to do is get independents in the state to like him a bit better," Franklin said. "Coming and talking about his achievements, about factories that are working with American jobs — all of that is a good reason to come to speak to those folks in the state who are not partisans."
"Because Democrats are already behind him," Franklin said, and "Republicans are almost certainly not going to cross over."
Democratic gains helped decide a critical state Supreme Court race this spring that moved Wisconsin’s highest court under liberal control for the first time in 15 years.
Republicans, though, will compete aggressively in the state, selecting Milwaukee as the site of its 2024 national nominating convention.
The 2020 Democratic convention was supposed to be held in Milwaukee too, but it largely unfolded virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden is one of a string of administration officials making stops across the country this week to promote the legislation’s anniversary.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday spoke in Las Vegas at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall about "the early results of bold federal action through the IRA" and the administration’s climate agenda.
"The IRA is driving economic growth, expanding economic opportunity and bolstering our resilience," she said.
Associated Press writer Will Weissert contributed to this report.