Vice President Kamala Harris came to Chicago’s Southeast Side on Wednesday as part of a White House effort to promote infrastructure projects and other Democratic accomplishments while offering a contrast to the ongoing chaos within the new U.S. House Republican majority.
Harris delivered a 10-minute speech in the early January chill at Crowley’s Yacht Yard beneath the 95th Street Bridge over the Calumet River. That bridge and three other drawbridges spanning the river and deemed “economically significant” are scheduled to receive upgrades through the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure act approved by the last Congress.
Noting the chain of bridges’ importance in moving goods by highway as the Calumet River helps move freight through the Illinois International Port, including parts from Ford’s South Side assembly plant, Harris said the upgrades will lead to more jobs and more investment as well as improved traffic flow, speeding delivery of products across the nation.
“The consequences of infrastructure underinvestment have been a familiar story in cities and states across our nation. About 43,000 bridges, almost 1 in 10, show signs of severe distress in our country. And you know for years people talked about this problem. But now I am proud to say we will finally fix this problem,” Harris said, noting the 95th Street Bridge was built in 1958.
“This bridge represents a very simple point. When we invest in our infrastructure, we invest in our economy. We invest in America’s future — a better future for workers, businesses, families and communities. It’s all connected,” she said.
The event touting the $144 million effort to upgrade the Calumet River bridges was part of a national rollout of bridge construction projects of $100 million or more. In Kentucky on Wednesday, President Joe Biden stood alongside Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to unveil funding for the Brent Spence Bridge linking Covington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati.
Also Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Connecticut to announce funding for the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in New London, while White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu is scheduled this week to announce earthquake-related improvements to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The funding comes from nearly $40 billion earmarked to repair and rebuild the nation’s bridges over the next five years, which the White House says represents the single largest dedicated investment in bridges since the construction of the Eisenhower-era Interstate Highway System.
Harris spoke of Democratic achievements while also frequently noting how the infrastructure funding represents what bipartisanship can achieve.
She did not mention the Republican struggle to elect a House speaker, unlike Biden who, on his Kentucky visit, called it “embarrassing for the country.”
The new GOP majority had been unable to elect a new speaker after six ballots as of Wednesday afternoon, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy facing opposition from about 20 far-right members of his party. The lack of a speaker means the chamber cannot conduct business or swear in its members.
Among those opposing McCarthy was U.S. Rep. Mary Miller of southern Illinois, furthering her far-rightward move in the ranks of Congress.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who joined Harris in the bridge funding announcement along with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Gary, Indiana, Mayor Jerome Prince, made a brief mention of the House GOP infighting.
He credited Harris for on Tuesday swearing in the new Senate and noted it only took “one ballot” to organize the chamber, where Democrats hold a narrow edge.
After Wednesday’s event, Harris made a quick stop at Calumet Fisheries at the western edge of the 95th Street Bridge, where she picked up two bags of food that included freshly smoked trout and salmon.