CNCounty News

President stresses partnership with counties

President Joe Biden addresses the General Session audience at the NACo Legislative Conference Feb. 12. Photo by Denny Henry

Key Takeaways

President Joe Biden’s mind was on the election when he spoke to the General Session audience at NACo’s Legislative Conference Feb. 12.

Not on his own campaign, but the safety of county election officials. 

“I never thought I’d have to say this, but thank you for your physical courage,” he said, thanking them for their service despite threats of violence. 

“Something is wrong, folks. We’ve got to change this; we’ve got to change the attitude in this country.”    

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Watch Biden's remarks

Biden traced the comeback of both the American economy and the sense of optimism that he has seen trending upward from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic to a greater coordination with local governments, particularly in the implementation of federal legislation that strengthened county priorities. Biden served as a New Castle County, Del. Council member prior to his election to the U.S. Senate.

Presidents have a long tradition of visiting with NACo members, including Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

“The laws that we passed and the work you did to make them work, began to bring [Americans] back on their feet. Creating new jobs, new businesses, a new cycle of hope,” he said. 

“When you see shovels in the ground, people going to work, I hope you feel the pride in what you’ve done, pride in your hometowns and making a comeback.” 

Biden had previously addressed the 2022 and 2023 Legislative Conferences, the 2015 Legislative Conference as vice president and the 2020 Fall Board Meeting, remotely, as president elect.  

He cited the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and as particularly potent in strengthening counties, particularly because the former allowed local governments to replace lost revenue to avoid budget cuts after the pandemic’s economic slowdown.

“That money kept cops on the beat, teachers in the classroom, money to keep childcare centers open, families in their homes, small businesses on their feet,” he said. “Money directly to every community in America, so that all of you could decide how to best spend your money without having to go through the statehouse or your governor.”

“You implemented what we did,” he said. “What you do matters to people’s everyday lives.”

He also said that federal officials could learn from the way local governments operate.

“The measure of success isn’t how many partisan points can you score, but can you fix the problem?” he said. “We’re here to deliver results.” 

Biden noted, with disdain, how the state of American infrastructure fell behind its international peers, and complacency followed.

“How can you have the best economy in the world when you don’t have the best infrastructure in the world?” he asked.

While he couched infrastructure investments in terms of economic competitiveness and compared broadband deployment to rural electrification, he zeroed in on the quality of life that aspects of those projects will enhance, particularly the replacement of lead waterpipes. Removing lead from drinking water was likely to provide just as much of an educational boost as reducing class sizes in school.

“That’s a practical impact, but no parent should have to watch their kids turn on a water fountain and know there’s lead in the pipe and not worry about what effect on the brain it has,” he said.

He stressed a broad focus on economic development, emphasizing the redevelopment of communities across the country while priming them for growth industries, particularly renewable energy and advanced manufacturing while also reducing environmental degradation.

“We’re revitalizing fenceline communities smothered by the legacy of pollution like where I lived in Claymont,” he said about his New Castle County childhood home.

The CHIPS and Science Act had shown early returns, he said, stimulating $640 billion in private investment in semiconductor manufacturing as the United States sought to increase its share of global production closer to 40% from the recent low of less than 10%.

“Now, semiconductor companies are moving back to America, back to your counties, so folks never have to leave their hometowns to get a good job where they can raise their family,” Biden said, noting that $110,000 annual wages at the companies are possible without college degrees. “Given half a chance, American workers have never ever, ever, ever let this country down, ever, when given a chance. Never."

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President Joe Biden addresses the General Session audience at the NACo Legislative Conference Feb. 12. Photo by Denny Henry