Biden Wows Attendees at Association of Counties Meeting
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden put the punctuation mark on what by all accounts was a highly successful National Association of Counties Legislative Conference at the Washington Hilton.
In all, nearly 2,000 elected and appointed county officials registered for the five-day conference, which started Friday, and most appeared on hand Tuesday for the president’s appearance.
“We heard he might be coming, but that scheduling was touch and go,” one attendee told The Well News.
Lunch was served and the clock crept past the anticipated 1:15 p.m. start time of Biden’s remarks as the president raced through some last-minute items at the White House.
One was a celebratory conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi in which the two leaders discussed Air India’s then just-announced purchase of 220 American-made Boeing aircraft.
The $34 billion purchase will support more than 1.4 million jobs in 44 states, Biden observed, and Air India has an option for additional purchases that could bring the total price tag up to $45.9 billion.
On a far more somber note, the president also released statements on Monday night’s mass shooting at Michigan State University and the fifth anniversary of the Parkland school shooting.
As the county officials waited, some attendees, with access to White House pool reports, cheered their colleagues with word that the in-town pool had been assembled to make the 1.5-mile drive to the hotel and, finally, that the president had emerged from the Oval Office, gotten in his waiting limousine and was en route.
Five minutes later, he bounded onto the Hilton ballroom’s stage.
Biden opened his remarks by recalling his start in politics as a county councilperson in New Castle County, Delaware.
“What I learned early on,” he said, “was that if you are in the county, you’ve got to go through someone else to get help. You’ve got to go to the governor. You’ve got to go to your state legislator. You’ve got to go to the state senators.
“Well, guess what, I stopped that,” he said to laughter and applause from the audience.
“No kidding,” Biden continued. “Because people don’t know every detail of how government works. They just know that there’s a pothole on their side street and they want it fixed.
“They don’t know who is responsible, but they come to the county all the time — at least that was my experience in New Castle County — and one of the things I found out early on was, we always did better when there was direct funding for the things that related to the county,” he said.
By now stalking the stage with a microphone, Biden went on to recall the skepticism he and most county officials face when running for office.
“I really do think [being a county official] is one of the hardest jobs,” he said. “I really mean it. I’m not being solicitous. I think it’s one of the hardest jobs in politics.
“How many of you have knocked on a door and said, ‘My name is so and so and I’m running for county commissioner’? And the person at the door looks at you and goes, ‘Oh, um, uh-huh.’”
Many in the crowd laughed knowingly.
“And then you say, ‘You want to know what a county commissioner does, don’t you?’ And they say, ‘Well, yeah, okay …’”
“I sincerely mean it. I want to thank you. I ran for the United States Senate because being in the county council was too hard,” he said, to even more laughter and applause.
The remainder of Biden’s remarks revolved around his now well-honed campaign-style speech, ticking off the many accomplishments of the administration in the last Congress, and vowing to at least try to work successfully with the new, Republican-controlled chamber.
But time and again, he punctuated his remarks with references to how White House policies and bipartisanship have benefitted the nation’s counties.
“Only 120 counties in the United States of America got help from the CARES Act. There was a lot of money but only 120 counties benefited,” he said.
“When I signed the American Rescue Plan, it sent $350 billion for the first time in history to every state, city and county in America,” he continued. “We made sure all of you, over 3,000 counties, got direct funding because I know when we empower you directly, you get the job done. Three thousand counties.
“We urged you to use the Rescue Plan money to make communities safer, invest in affordable housing, get small businesses back on their feet, train your workforce, and you did,” the president said.
“And we’re rebuilding the country through the bipartisan infrastructure law,” Biden said. “In your counties, we’re investing in your roads, bridges, airports, public transit, water systems, high-speed rail and so much more.
“This is the work we’re going to continue to do together, Democrats and Republicans,” he added.
Biden closed his remarks, as he almost always does, with a patriotic flourish.
“We’re proving, in every county in America, our best days are ahead of us. They’re not behind us,” he said.
“This is the United States of America, for God’s sake. There’s nothing — I mean this sincerely — there’s nothing we can’t do,” he continued.
“We’re the only nation in the world that’s come out of every crisis we’ve ever met stronger than we went into it — the only nation that’s ever done that. Because we have a resilient population.
“America never gives up, never steps down, never backs away, never stops,” he said, adding, “We have an incredible country, and there’s nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together. And we’re looking to the counties to being the key to getting it done.”