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Politics & Government

President Joe Biden discusses runways and bridges in Portland pit stop

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Kristyna Wentz-Graff
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President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd of supporters and elected officials gathered in an Air National Guard hangar at Portland’s airport, April 21, 2022.

Biden was joined by Gov. Kate Brown and members of Oregon's congressional delegation in an appearance at Portland's airport. It was his first visit to the state as president.

President Joe Biden looked around on his first presidential visit to Oregon and saw a lot that needs fixing.

In a very brief stop in Portland on Thursday, the president mentioned hundreds of miles of decrepit roads, bridges in poor condition, and vital infrastructure vulnerable to an inevitable earthquake. All problems, he suggested, that his Republican predecessor Donald Trump had allowed to languish — and that he and other Democrats are poised to solve.

“Portland International Airport is a perfect example of both the need and the opportunity and the ability to make progress,” Biden told a crowd of supporters and elected officials gathered in an Air National Guard hangar at the airport. “I don’t have to tell you it’s an essential economic engine for the entire region, not just Portland. A lot of people don’t know it, but this airport employs 10,000 people — 10,000 people. In addition, 20 million people travel through this airport every year.

“But here’s the deal: It’s been much too long since America invested in our airports, our ports and our rail. We used to have the best infrastructure in the world — this is a fact. We are now ranked as 13th best infrastructure — 13th, the United States. We stopped investing in ourselves.”

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Kristyna Wentz-Graff
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OPB
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown welcomes President Joe Biden with a big hug after he arrived at Portland’s airport, April 21, 2022.


In a dash-in, dash-out visit in which he also made time to raise money for Democratic candidates, the president touted billions in spending that he said would bolster aging infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest.

Among those improvements, the president highlighted an earthquake-proof runway at PDX, which could be a major asset when the expected Cascadia Subduction Zone hits the region. Nearly $4 million in federal aid will assist in that project, the White House said. Another $20 million in federal aid will pay for maintenance at the airport, which is in the midst of a major redesign. Biden toured part of the airport, including the new roof on the main terminal being built with mass-produced timber.

“People forget America invented modern aviation,” Biden said. “But we’ve allowed our airports to lag far behind our competitors.”

The Portland pit-stop was part of a two-coast presidential tour in which Biden is selling the benefits of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that Congress passed in November, and a separate $1.5 trillion spending bill passed last month. Biden landed at PDX at 12:41 p.m. and took off for Seattle around four hours later.

The tour comes as Democrats face a worrying midterm election cycle. Historically, the party in power has suffered big losses in the midterms, and Republicans are widely expected to gain ground in November. Poll after poll has shown voters, in Oregon and across the country, to be frustrated and tired after more than two years living with COVID-19 and its many impacts on daily life and the economy.

Biden on Thursday lauded millions of jobs created by the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure bill and told a highly partisan audience that Democrats are succeeding in efforts to rebuild. He argued that he’d taken meaningful steps to slow the record inflation that has posed a major challenge to his leadership — including by releasing strategic oil reserves to combat rising gas prices.

Joining Biden at PDX were Gov. Kate Brown, who received a big hug from the president as he walked off Air Force One, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the state’s Democratic members of the U.S. House. They all got shout-outs from the president before he spoke, potential fodder for campaign ads in the midterm elections to come.

President Joe Biden is greeted by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and other members of an Oregon delegation as he arrives at Portland’s airport, April 21, 2022. It was his first visit to the state as president.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
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President Joe Biden is greeted by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and other members of an Oregon delegation as he arrives at Portland’s airport, April 21, 2022. It was his first visit to the state as president.

Biden also addressed voter concerns over inflation — and attempts by Republicans to blame him. He told the audience that rising prices and inflation are largely due to two factors: COVID-related closures and supply chain snarls and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After his public remarks at the airport, the president planned to attend an exclusive Democratic fundraiser at the nearby Portland Yacht Club. Tickets to the sold-out event went for between $500 and $36,500.

The location of that fundraiser appeared designed to minimize disruptions from the presidential motorcade. Portland police tweeted on Wednesday that motorists could expect some road closures near the airport, but that major freeways and the main access road to the airport should remain open. The airport warned travelers that they might experience delays because of Biden’s visit, and some flights were delayed Thursday afternoon.

The visit did not go unremarked on by local Republicans, who used the presidential proximity to highlight problems in the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Southwest Washington, sent Biden an open letter inviting him to speak with local law enforcement about drugs making their way to the region from Mexico.

“I am certain that a 30-minute meeting with one of these narcotics task forces would be an illuminating experience for you, and may well inform a change in your administration’s policies at our borders,” Herrera Beutler wrote.

Meanwhile, Republican congressional candidate Lori Chavez-DeRemer, the former mayor of Happy Valley, derided the bill Biden had come to brag about.

“Joe Biden is making his first visit to Oregon as President to tout a trillion-dollar spending bill that has skyrocketed inflation, will increase the national debt, and do very little to improve our infrastructure,” Chavez-DeRemer said in a statement. “But the real reason Biden is here is to attend a fundraiser at a Yacht Club with Liberal multi-millionaires amidst record inflation, a southern border crisis, and crime in our streets.”

Oregon transportation officials have said the infrastructure bill will send an extra $1.2 billion to the state over five years. Roughly a third of that money came in the form of flexible funds, and in late March the Oregon Transportation Commission voted on a plan to spend that money. The plan includes $50 million for highway projects, $80 million for safety enhancements on main streets and routes to school, $75 million for maintenance projects and $40 million to bolster the Oregon Department of Transportation’s budget, among other things.

Biden departed from PDX for Seattle shortly before 5 p.m.