MILWAUKEE (AP) — On the heels of a fourth indictment for Donald Trump, President Joe Biden focused on manufacturing jobs in a speech at a Wisconsin factory — putting his ideas for growth up against his Republican rivals in a bid to win over voters in a key state in next year's presidential election.
"It's really kind of basic: we just decided to invest in America again," Biden said Tuesday. "That's what it's all about."
His arrival in Milwaukee came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, a major piece of economic legislation he signed into law with great ceremony but polls show that most people know little about it or what it does. It also occurred a week before Republicans descend on Milwaukee for the party's first presidential debate. But as Biden spoke, much of the political world was focused on his predecessor, Trump, who was charged late Monday in Georgia on an alleged scheme to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election.
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 by generating roughly $500 billion in corporate investments in factories and other facilities. The president ignored Trump in his speech, but he made the economic case personal by directly challenging the state's Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who was just reelected in 2022 and not up again until 2028.
Biden said that his ideas are in opposition to "the conservative Republican view, the so-called MAGA view, which is focused on corporate profits."
"But you know who believes that?" the president said. "Your significant Senator Ron Johnson. He believes outsourcing manufacturing jobs is a great thing."
Other Democrats on Tuesday openly compared Biden's trip to discuss policy with the legal challenges of Trump, the Republican frontrunner trying to oust him in 2024.
"The contrast between Republicans and us is incredible," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday on a conference call.
Republican lawmakers are focused on criticizing Biden's economic leadership over inflation hitting a four-decade peak last summer, saying that many U.S. families are still struggling as a result of higher prices.
"Real wages are down and gas prices are up," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on X, the social media platform formerly known at Twitter. "You are paying the price for failed leadership."
Biden toured Ingeteam, a clean energy manufacturer of onshore wind turbine generators in Milwaukee, and talked up provisions of the law to boost domestic manufacturing and clean energy, lower health care costs and crack down on billionaires who paying their avoid taxes.
Ingeteam plans to hire 100 workers using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law money to start producing electric vehicle 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 Wisconsin's 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. 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.
Some critics of the legislation say provisions of the law could ultimately end up increasing inflation, even though the annual rate of inflation has fallen from 9% last summer to 3.2% in its most recent 12-month reading. 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.
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.
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."