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President Joe Biden speaks about job creation near Madison

The visit comes the morning after the president's annual State of the Union address

President Joe Biden speaks into a microphone. Workers in neon vests are seen behind him.
Pres. Joe Biden speaks Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the LiUNA Training Center in DeForest, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

President Joe Biden spoke at a labor training facility outside of Madison on Wednesday, kicking off a day of traveling the country to promote the agenda he laid out in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Biden delivered remarks at the Laborers’ International Union of North America training center in DeForest, speaking about creating “good-paying, union jobs” and other aspects of his economic plan.

“We’ve created 12 million jobs. A half a million jobs last month,” the President told supporters. “The Biden economic plan is working.”

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In his remarks, Biden emphasized the “dignity” of labor, promoting his record on job creation and echoing themes from his State of the Union address.

President Joe Biden holds a phone in the air while smiling and taking a selfie.
Pres. Joe Biden takes a selfie with attendees Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the LiUNA Training Center in DeForest, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Standing before a backdrop of assembled union laborers in bright orange, Biden said his jobs plan intersects with projects to increase manufacturing and improve infrastructure.

“This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America,” he said.

Biden referred to several Wisconsin-specific infrastructure projects, including a project to revitalize the Port of Green Bay, bridge repair work over the Wisconsin River in Columbia County and the purchase of 46 electric buses in Madison, which earned big cheers from the local crowd.

Each project, Biden said, would create good jobs people could raise a family on without the need for a college degree

“Jobs where people don’t have to leave home in search of an opportunity,” Biden said.

Workers in neon vests and hard hats applaud.
Workers applaud as Gov. Tony Evers speaks before a visit from Pres. Joe Biden on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the LiUNA Training Center in DeForest, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Prior to Biden’s remarks, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, and Gov. Tony Evers — all Democrats — spoke about Biden’s support for their statewide priorities, like infrastructure improvements.

Biden was introduced by Sarah Varga, a Janesville native and apprentice at the training center, who spoke about the benefit of entering a union workforce.

“There has been no greater friend than President Biden when it comes to creating more union jobs, building our roads and bridges, replacing lead pipes and building renewable energy and high-tech manufacturing facilities,” Varga said.

Biden name-checked several Wisconsin politicians, telling Evers, “You’ve been a great partner, man.” He praised Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who was not in the audience.

“She fights so damn hard for this state,” he said.

Gov. Tony Evers waves as Mayor Rhodes-Conway applauds.
Gov. Tony Evers waves at attendees while standing on stage with Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, left, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the LiUNA Training Center in DeForest, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

In shades of his occasionally combative State of the Union Address the night before, Biden also referenced remarks by Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson who has said Congress should consider “everything, every year” when trying to reduce national debt. Democrats have seized on Johnson’s comments, saying they would put Social Security and Medicare in danger.

“Come on, man,” Biden said, to scattered boos from some of the assembled laborers standing behind him.

Biden’s frequent ad-libs echoed the tone of Tuesday’s speech, when he engaged in some repartee with Republicans assembled in that chamber. He also reiterated a central theme of that address — a desire to work across the aisle to accomplish his agenda.

He pointed to the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure law he signed in 2021 as an example of his bipartisan accomplishments to date.

“There’s nothing — nothing — beyond our capacity if we work together, and it’s my hope we’re going to find enough Republicans that want to do that,” he said at the speech’s end.

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Gov. Tony Evers.
Pres. Joe Biden shakes hands with Gov. Tony Evers, right, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, after giving a speech at the LiUNA Training Center in DeForest, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

‘I expect we see a lot more of him’

The president’s stop was part of what the White House has said will be a nationwide “blitz” by Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Cabinet members, traveling the country to highlight the Biden administration’s record.

And it’s a sign of the importance of Wisconsin to national politics, said Joe Zepecki, a Milwaukee-based Democratic strategist.

“Wisconsin is a tipping point state, is a critical battleground for our politics, and it’s no surprise that the President — who was here not too long ago to celebrate Labor Day last year — is coming back,” Zepecki said. “I expect we’ll see a lot more of him in the months and years to come.”

Biden has not officially announced that he is running for reelection, but he’s recently indicated that he will.

Prior to the event, Wisconsin GOP chair Brian Schimming told Wisconsin Public Radio that the visit is a sign of Wisconsin’s importance to Biden’s reelection prospects.

“The president’s going to come to Wisconsin more for one reason: He has to,” Schimming said. “He has to turn around his political fortunes here.”

In a statement to reporters following Biden’s event, Schimming said Biden’s visit would not improve those odds.

“Trying to buy votes with his inflationary spending and Green New Deal agenda isn’t the answer to helping Wisconsin families,” he said.

President Joe Biden is seen in the middle of a crowded room. A sign in the background says
A crowd of workers, elected officials and community members listen as Pres. Joe Biden speaks Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the LiUNA Training Center in DeForest, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The most recent Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin voters, taken in late October, found 42 percent of voters viewed Biden favorably compared to 53 percent who view him unfavorably.

More broadly, Biden’s support among Democrats going into a potential reelection bid is low. A series of recent polls have found concerns among Democrats about Biden seeking reelection. A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, released earlier this week, found that only 37 percent of Democrats want to see Biden run for a second term.

But Wisconsin’s elected Democrats, and its state party, roundly praised the president’s visit, with Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler keying in on Biden’s jobs record.

“President Biden has led our nation through the creation of 12.1 million jobs, and understands, in his bones, how working people are the heart and soul of this country,” Wikler said in a written statement.

After Biden’s Wisconsin visit on Wednesday, he is scheduled to travel to Florida, another potential battleground state.

Editor’s note: WPR’s Gaby Vinick contributed reporting to this story.