President Joe Biden visits Milwaukee to voice support for Black-owned business ownership

It's Biden's third visit to the state ahead of 2024 election

Biden gestures as he speaks from behind a podium.
President Joe Biden speaks Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, at the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Ahead of what’s sure to be a tightly contested presidential election next year, President Joe Biden visited Milwaukee Wednesday to share how his policies are driving what he calls a boom in Black-owned small businesses across the nation.

It was Biden’s seventh trip to Wisconsin as president and his third this year, another reminder of the key role the swing state will play in the election. Black voter turnout in Milwaukee is crucial for a Democratic candidate’s path to victory in the state.

The visit comes as Biden’s job approval rating in November was 40 percent, according to a Marquette University Law School Poll. That poll also found former president Donald Trump was leading Biden among registered voters in the 2024 race for president.

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According to the White House, Black business ownership is growing at its fastest pace in 30 years. Biden highlighted that success to those gathered to hear him speak at the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce.

“Where Black small businesses go, everything benefits,” Biden said during his speech. “The community benefits, everyone benefits … and it gives hope and prospects for people.”

Biden also said he believed Black-owned businesses also “hold communities together.”

“Every new business opening is a vote for hope,” Biden added.

A woman smiles as she takes a photo with Biden signs in the background.
A woman takes a selfie before President Joe Biden delivered a speech Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, at the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Before his speech, the president met with Rashawn Spivey, the owner of Milwaukee-based Hero Plumbing. Spivey said his company has helped replace 600 lead pipes across Milwaukee, mostly at childcare centers.

“President Biden’s support of black-owned businesses has helped us live up to the ‘hero’ name,” Spivey said.

The president also used the trip as part of an effort to promote what the White House is calling “Bidenomics.” A statement from the White House said because of Biden’s agenda, the United States is on track to have the three strongest years in history for new small business applications.

Republican leaders in Wisconsin painted a different picture. During a press conference Wednesday before the president’s visit, Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brian Schimming said Biden is in Wisconsin because he’s in trouble politically because of the economy.

“Voters number one issue is the economy. Voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the economy, and by a wide margin,” Schimming said.

The state GOP also highlighted Wisconsin’s importance as a swing state in the upcoming presidential election.

“Wisconsin is not one of 50 states next year. We’re one of five,” Schimming said. “What happens in Wisconsin matters, and it matters with this national election, because the road to the White House goes through Wisconsin.”

Biden points as he stands at the podium.
President Joe Biden speaks Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, at the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

In a statement, National Republican Congressional Committee Spokesman Mike Marinella said he believes the president’s policies have created a “dumpster fire in communities across Wisconsin.”

“Biden’s unpopularity will drag down their party in November, just like he’s dragging down middle-class Wisconsinites who are suffering from his failed ‘Bidenomics’ agenda,” Marinella said in the statement.

Biden flipped Wisconsin blue in 2020 after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Republican’s focus on the state played a part in the party’s choice of Milwaukee to play host to the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Democrats have historically performed very well in Milwaukee County. In 2020, Biden won nearly 70 percent of the popular vote in the county. But Republicans have been increasingly dominant in smaller and more rural communities across the state.

Biden said lead pipe removal is important

In Milwaukee Wednesday, Biden also praised a recent proposal from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to ramp up the removal of lead service lines across the nation.

“Lead exposure disproportionately affects low-income communities and disproportionately affects people of color,” Biden said. “This is the United States of America for god’s sake. Everyone should be able to turn on a faucet and know whatever they’re drinking is clean and pure and not have to worry about it.”

The plan is expected to cost states billions of dollars each year to implement. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $50 billion to help upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, as well as $15 billion for lead line replacement.

In Milwaukee, there are still 65,000 active lead lines that need to be removed. Milwaukee Water Works has been replacing an average of about 1,000 pipes each year with a goal of removing 1,200 lines this year.