Remarks by President Biden at Virtual Meeting with Elected Officials to Discuss the Importance of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
South Court Auditorium
(August 11, 2021)
3:13 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, folks. Sorry I’m a few minutes late. It’s good to see you all. Gretchen, how are you?
I understand we have another 95,000 people on this Zoom, but apparently there’s a large number of folks on.
I’m going to begin by thanking you all — all those of you I can’t see as well — for signing on to help pass the infrastructure bill. It mattered a lot. It’s the first big bipartisan thing we’ve done in a long while, and I think it’s long overdue. And it is great to see you all.
Yesterday, the Senate passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, in no small part because of all of you, in a significant milestone in the road toward making what we all know are long-overdue and much-needed investments.
As Gretchen, when she ran, said, “Just fix the roads, damn it.” Right? Well, we’re going to do more than that this time around.
I want to thank you for the work and for all of you — and my administration, with the members of Congress, with the media — to highlight the need to make these investments in our nation’s infrastructure.
As mayors, governors, Tribal and county leaders, state and local officials at every level, you know that there’s no such thing as a Democratic road or a Republican bridge. But you do know what’s not working, and you know what it means to be accountable to the people you serve and to focus on solving real problems people are facing in your communities.
But you also know that often states and cities and counties can’t do it alone. They need the federal government to be a partner, solving problems. And being a partner is what we’re supposed to be doing.
That’s the approach we’ve been taking with this bipartisan infrastructure bill. It’s going to create literally millions of jobs — good-paying jobs, putting America on a path to win the 21st century global economy. And we’re in a competition with many other nations.
And it makes key investments to put people to work in cities, small towns, and rural communities. I believe it’s a historic investment in roads and rail, in transit and bridges, in clean energy and clean water. And it’s going to enable us not only to build back, but to build back better than ever before.
Across America, more than 45,000 bridges are structurally deficient. Let me say that again: 45,000 bridges in America are structurally deficient. One out of every five miles of highway is in disrepair. And this bill makes the largest investment in bridges since the creation of the Interstate Highway System.
You know, 10 million households, and 400,000 schools, daycare centers — they lack safe drinking water. This bill is going to allow us to replace 100 percent of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines so every child in America can turn on a faucet in their school or at home and drink clean water.
That’s what this infrastructure is all about today. We’re going to need to build the infrastructure for tomorrow, not just today. We got to build back not just — I know you’re tired of hearing me say it, but build back better that it was before we hit this God-awful circumstance we found ourselves in.
This bill is going to deliver high-speed Internet to every American. And we’ll build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.
And here is another important part of the bill: Nearly 90 percent of the jobs created by this bill don’t require a college degree. This is the ultimate blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America.
And we’re going to do it without raising taxes by one cent on anyone making less than $400,000 a year. That’s why we wouldn’t even support a gas — increased gas tax.
As we did with the Transcontinental Railroad and the Interstate Highway System, we’re going to once again transform America and propel this nation into the future.
Look, I believe that passing this bill will also do something else: It will help ease the years of gridlock in Washington and show the American people that their government can and will work for them again.
We’re going to still have big disagreements, but it’s happening at a critical time, because now is the moment to build our — on our momentum.
Folks, we’ve added more than 4 million new jobs since my first day in office six months ago. The unemployment rate is the lowest since the pandemic hit. We’re delivering a tax cut to families with children every single month. And those who get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, we’re covering more people, and we’re able to do it at lower premiums by up to 40 percent.
And it’s a battle with Delta virus. We have — we have the tools. We have the vaccinations. We have — we need to vaccinate more Americans and the tools to keep our economy growing and growing. But we got to get more people vaccinated. I know you all know that well.
We just have to act. And that’s what I want to talk about today. I want to hear from you about these investments: what they’re going to mean for your states and communities; what we could have done better, if there’s things we could have done; and why it is so urgent.
And so let me start with Governor Whitmer. We all remember your campaign slogan, Gov —
GOVERNOR WHITMER: (Laughs.)
THE PRESIDENT: — that — you’ve been focused on trying to fix the roads in your state since you took office. And what — what — what will this federal investments in Michigan roads and bridges do and mean to your state’s economy and job creation?
So — and then I want to hear from the rest of you. But I’ll go one at a time, if that’s okay.
GOVERNOR WHITMER: Sounds perfect.
THE PRESIDENT: Gretchen, fire away.
GOVERNOR WHITMER: All right. Thanks, Mr. President. I’m so glad to be here with you. It’s my honor to be here as the governor of the great state of Michigan as we come together to make the largest infrastructure investment in American history.
And, Mr. President, you mentioned it, but I ran on fixing the damn roads.
THE PRESIDENT: I remember. (Laughs.)
GOVERNOR WHITMER: (Laughs.) And you know, and it’s fixing the dams and roads. You know, don’t think I haven’t noticed that so many other governors and Cabinet Secretaries have been stealing that tagline. But, of course, it’s because it is true across the nation, right?
Anyone can use that phrase, but just make sure that the mom in Flint who first said that to me back in 2018 gets a little bit of credit.
You know, today, I’m especially proud to have so many partners in Washington who share our mission to fix the damn roads.
I want to thank you, Mr. President, and Vice President Harris for making infrastructure a real priority. And because of your leadership and dedication, countless families, communities, and small businesses in Michigan and across the country are going to benefit.
I also want to thank all the senators who worked across the aisle to get this done — including Michigan’s own Senator Debbie Stabenow and Senator Gary Peters, who’ve been tireless champions for Michiganders.
And I’m so glad to be here speaking alongside Mayor Dyer and Mayor Lumumba, Commissioner Hausmann, and Chief Hoskin. This diverse group shows just how wide-ranging an impact that this bill is going to have.
Now, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act takes a big step toward helping Michigan modernize and develop the infrastructure we need to effectively connect our communities and continue our economic jumpstart.
The bold package is going to create millions of good-paying jobs; fix our crumbling roads and bridges; help us build a clean, resilient energy grid; bolster public transportation; deliver clean drinking water to millions of families; and ensure every home has access to high-speed Internet, which we know — after the last year and a half — is just truly a foundational and fundamental need.
This landmark bill is going to be a game changer for us here in Michigan. We’re estimated to receive $7.26 billion for roads and bridges here. That $7.26 billion we can use to restore and rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, saving drivers and small businesses money and time. That’s $7.26 billion to make commutes or the drive to school, road trips up north, safer and smoother.
The bill will also build out a national network of electric vehicle charging stations, helping Michigan’s iconic auto industry turbocharge its transition to electric and continue leading the future of mobility.
So, that F150 that you drove in Dearborn, Mr. President, or I know that the GM truck you drove the other day, that’s how — we need to have this infrastructure so that we can lead the world in advanced mobility.
So, this is a much-needed investment in moving us towards an electric future, and it may be the momentum we need for bigger investments in the future.
Our Senators Stabenow and Peters spearheaded a record $1 billion investment in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
GOVERNOR WHITMER: It’ll help us clean up and restore the beautiful freshwater lakes and preserve our picturesque peninsulas.
And finally, the package includes $10 billion to help us continue cleaning up toxic chemicals and contaminants from our water supply. It includes $4 billion to help water utilities remove chemicals from their supply or to connect well owners to local systems, and another $5 billion to help small or disadvantaged communities tackle PFAS in drinking water.
So, I think this is the — setting the stage for future collaboration as well — as well as this bill heads to the House and awaits final passage.
We’re going to keep working at the state level to make bold infrastructure investments as well. I got a $3.5 billion build — Rebuilding Michigan road bonding plan done the year before last. Twenty-one state highway construction projects are underway this summer, supporting 22,800 good-paying jobs. And we’re investing resources to make sure every Michigander can go about their day and get things done without worrying if they’re going to blow a tire or crack an axle. And we’re doing it while creating all these jobs in the process.
So, the economic and job-creating potential of this Infrastructure and Jobs Act is huge. It’s a big deal, as you would say. (Laughter.)
With this once-in-a-generation investment, we can usher in a new era of prosperity and build back better from this pandemic stronger than ever.
So, I’m grateful for your leadership, Mr. President. I’m excited about the prospect of this and what it’s going to mean for every American — and not some, not a few, but every one of us will benefit when we get this done.
And I’m so glad to be with you today.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. And, by the way, you know, I think, sort of breaking through this first big barrier in a bipartisan way, I really believe — it doesn’t make everything easy, but it does have a way — it has an effect on other things.
I noticed that you mentioned having — I had the three presidents of the three major American automobile companies, the UAW, and all of the — all the auto workers in my backyard here at the White House with their electric vehicles. The commitment is to get 40 — I believe, 50 percent of all our vehicles in America be electric vehicles, with 550,000 charging stations along the highways that are being repaired and — you know, or built.
And, you know, that means, for Michigan, if I’m looking at my notes here, you’re going to receive $110 million dollars for the expansion of EV — of EV charging networks.
So, I just think, hopefully, this makes people realize if the autoworkers and the automobile executives can get together and form this kind of alliance, I think we’re making some real progress.
But, thank you, Jennifer [Gretchen], for what you’ve done and continue to do.
And, Mr. Mayor — Jerry, I don’t want to get you in trouble out in Fresno, California, for letting you know I actually like a Republican. But you’ve done a hell of a job. I’m anxious to hear about your electric buses later.
But, anyway, the floor is yours, Jerry.
MAYOR DYER: Thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership on this critical infrastructure package. You know, there — there are really many things to like about this infrastructure bill, beginning with bipartisan support. That always makes it easier on us at the local level, as you mentioned.
And the last time I checked, both Republican and Democrats alike travel on our roadways and cross our bridges, use mass transit, and breathe the same air.
So, unfortunately, Fresno, along with Los Angeles, our neighbors to the south, had some of the worst air quality in the nation —
THE PRESIDENT: Yep.
MAYOR DYER: — which is why we’re focused on transitioning to clean air buses in Fresno, as you mentioned. In fact, we rolled out our first two electric buses last week —
THE PRESIDENT: I know.
MAYOR DYER: — thanks to a Federal Transportation Administration grant. Thank you, Mr. President, to your administration. And this bi- — this bill, I believe, will accelerate those efforts here in Fresno.
Second, as you know, Fresno is ground zero to — for California’s high-speed rail efforts.
THE PRESIDENT: Yep.
MAYOR DYER: And I’m proud to say that Fresno will be host to the — the nation’s first high-speed rail station right here in downtown Fresno. And so federal assistance is vital in order to complete this project. And I’m hopeful that this infrastructure bill will provide that financial support to us here in Fresno.
And Fresno, like many cities, is in the midst of airport expansion with the addition of a new terminal at our Fresno Yosemite International Airport this coming year. And certainly, this bill has the potential to expedite our airport expansion as well.
And with the changing climate and drought conditions in California, we are facing, on a weekly basis, life-threatening wildfires that not only put our power grid in danger locally, but our firefighters as well. And this bill will strengthen our power grid by investing in it, which is vital in our region. And it’s very important that we do so in order to avoid some of the rolling blackouts that we experience here in Fresno as a matter of routine.
And lastly, unfortunately — and I’m not proud of this — but Fresno is number two in poverty in the state of California. We have a very poor valley, a very poor region. Most of our jobs historically have been agricultural-centric, although that is changing. And this infrastructure bill will create good-paying, meaningful jobs, which are desperately needed in Fresno and throughout our region, and allow us to build upon those agricultural jobs that we’ve been relying upon.
So I just want to say, on — as the mayor of Fresno and as a Republican, I am very grateful for your leadership, Mr. President on this infrastructure package — making it a priority with your administration; considering — or taking into consideration input from state and local jurisdictions; as well as working diligently to pursue that bipartisan support.
So, thank you again, and we are here to assist and take advantage of that funding.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Jerry — thank you, Mr. Mayor. Look, I’m not being solicitous, but we kind of had Fresno in mind — I’m not joking — because the air quality, the — where you sit, how tough it is for you there.
And, you know, all the things you mentioned have an impact — are going to allow you to have an impact on air quality.
You know me, because you’re aware of it, I’m a big rail guy.
MAYOR DYER: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: We have more money in this — in this area for high-speed rail than all the money we spend on set — setting up Amtrak. This is a gigantic investment. And you know as well as I do, when people can take a train from point A to point B — conveniently and faster than you can drive your vehicle — they take the train.
We’re talking about electric. We’re talking about electric. We’re not talking diesels. We’re talking about electric. And we’re talking about being able to transform and impact on the air quality in your area, because of geographic location and the spot you’re in.
Also, with regard to the power grid: You know, you have seen more than most people — in California, you’ve seen the impact that weather has on not being able to sustain the security of the power grid —
MAYOR DYER: Right.
THE PRESIDENT: — whether it was bad weather or fires or whatever it is. And there’s a lot of money in here — a lot of money in here for making sure we can take care of the lines that carry the electricity, the lines that move it along.
And one of the other pieces in here that I know you know about because you’re already doing it, is that — you know, your airport — your airport, as well as the high-speed rail terminal. That also — there’s money in here for airports. Republicans strongly supported it, as well as Democrats, because there’s a lot that has to be done to modernize the airports. And that also has the impact of cutting down on air quality problems and the like.
And so, there’s so much. And I understand you have seven more electric buses on order or you’re thinking about getting another seven. We got some money for you.
MAYOR DYER: Yeah, we have —
THE PRESIDENT: We got some money for you.
MAYOR DYER: (Laughs.) Well, thank you, Mr. President. We actually have seven more that are going to be coming on line in 2022. So — and if you want to send us more, we’ll take them.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, by the way, it is really a big, big deal. And one of the things we’re doing is we have provisions that we’re trying to encourage the American manufacturers to actually generate and build the platforms for these electric buses.
I was in Carolina looking at a factory where they’re making not only school buses, but also, you know, the regular transit systems that are electric-based. It’s phenomenal what’s going on, but we have to make sure we have all the par- — you know, access to — to the various pieces of materials and minerals we need to produce them. But it’s a big deal.
So, I’m going to be coming back to you, and all of you, to get help on making sure we continue to make these investments because I view this as just starting, not the end.
But this is going to — this is going to play out over the next eight years — these investments. It’s a lot of money. It’s over $500 million — billion in new money over those eight years. And it’s paid for. It’s paid for.
So, thanks for what you’re doing.
And, you know, I always joke with my friends: You know, being a mayor maybe is the toughest job in American politics; they know where you live — (laughs) — and you affect their everyday lives more than anybody. So, I wish you the best of luck.
MAYOR DYER: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Mayor Lumumba, from Jackson, Mississippi. How you doing, pal? Good to see you again. Thanks for being so nice to my wife.
MAYOR LUMUMBA: (Laughs.) Thank you, Mr. President. It’s a pleasure to join you. It’s a pleasure to join all of the amazing people on this call today.
I want to express my gratitude not only to your administration, but towards the bipartisan effort that has led to this bill passing the Senate.
I want to thank Roger — Senator Roger Wicker —
THE PRESIDENT: Yep.
MAYOR LUMUMBA: — from Mississippi —
THE PRESIDENT: He stepped up.
MAYOR LUMUMBA: — who stepped up and supported this effort.
Mr. President, as you are well aware, the residents of Jackson, who I have the honor to serve, are greater than the sum of their challenges. And the city of Jackson is greater than the sum of its challenges, with amazing people and with a city which is pregnant with possibilities. But we do have real challenges, which were reflected in our February storms — the consecutive storms that we faced that completely debilitated our water distribution system. These are challenges we have seen frequently and were reflected in a different fashion most recently in February.
Because we have experienced hotter — hotter summers, colder winters, and more rain in the rainy season, it has had a detrimental impact on our aging and crumbling infrastructure. What it resulted in, in February, was literally raw water screens that froze, making it difficult for water to get into our water treatment facility, consequently making it difficult for treated water to get out. This led to thousands — tens of thousands of residents across the city of Jackson being without potable and non-potable water.
This is more than just a matter of convenience. It is a matter of life and what people rely on. It’s how people take their medication. It’s how people, in the midst of a pandemic — pandemic, take care of their sanitary needs.
And so, this has been an extreme challenge. And I can’t express enough my gratitude for your efforts and the bipartisan effort to see to this bill passing the Senate. And we look forward to its passage through the House.
I believe that one of our principal functions, as leaders who are responsible for the needs of our residents, is understanding that budgets are moral documents which should reflect the values we have as a nation.
We need our budgets and we need our economy to more than just reflect our aspirations of GDP and stock market metrics. They must meet sustainable development goals, and we must create a dignity economy — an economy which reflects the inherent dignity of every person.
To be able to provide safe drinking water, a sustainable infrastructure, a resilient infrastructure, and. might I add, an equitable infrastructure has to be a part of our plan to build back better.
And so, I want to, once again, express my gratitude for your hard work, your focus on this issue. When I met you during your campaign in Atlanta, Georgia, you stated that this would be a focus of yours, and I’m thankful for you holding true to that promise.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Mr. Mayor, thank you. You know, I think it’s important that the other sixteen- or seventeen hundred people who are on this call understand what you and others have gone through.
You — you found yourself in a position, in terms of water, where — it’s estimated by our team that over the next 20 years, Mississippi drinking water infrastructure — Mississippi drinking water infrastructure is going to require $4.8 billion in additional funding.
And the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $55 billion in investment to ensure clean, safe drinking water. And it’s a right of all communities, as you point out.
And the bill would eliminate the nation’s lead-based service lines, which I know you and I talked about. And so, there’s a lot of good that’s going on in here.
And I say to Mayor Dryer [Dyer] as well that — we talk about, you know, the poverty rate of these towns — you know, we’re going to be able to fab [sic] — all of you have full-blown Internet that’s affordable and available in rural and cities across the way that’s going to change the circumstance for people in those communities that — particularly, those folks — so people don’t have to — when they’re — if, God forbid, we’re back to having, you know, distanced learning, where they don’t have to sit in the McDonald’s parking lot to get access — with their mom or dad — to get access to the Internet to do their work.
So, I just can’t thank you enough. You’ve — you’ve really gone out of the way to deal with the issues that we’re talking about here. And I think — I hope you’re going to see a lot of benefit flow from this. Because the idea, you know, no more Flints, no more Jacksons, in terms of water, because we’re going to get this done with — as my grandfather used to say, “with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors.”
But we got, also, the entire United States Senate supporting it by 69 votes. And we’re looking forward to it happening in the House as well. So, thanks a lot, pal. And let us know what you need in this if you’re — if — any of you, if you, you know — if any of it comes across as confusing.
Now, I know Liz Hausmann of Fulton County — County Commissioner — isn’t going to be confused about anything. But, I — you know, I — Liz, I made a mistake saying that being a mayor is the toughest; maybe being a county commissioner is. You know why? Because you knock on a door and say, “My name is Joe Biden, candidate for the county council.” And they’ll look at you and smile and say, “Yeah.” And you know what they’re thinking — “What do you do? What does a commissioner do?” (Laughs.)
Anyway, you have a hell of a job, Liz, and so why don’t you tell me what you — what’s on your mind. And I know you take — do you take in a lot of Atlanta in your district?
COMMISSIONER HAUSMANN: Atlanta is in our county. Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER HAUSMANN: We have 15 cities, including Atlanta.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, fire away. The floor is yours.
COMMISSIONER HAUSMANN: Well, Mr. President, first of all, it’s an honor to serve the citizens of Fulton County, but it’s a true honor to be here with you today as we have this important conversation about the future and improving our nation’s infrastructure. So, thank you for having me.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HAUSMANN: I’m coming from the state of Georgia, which provides — which prides itself in being the number-one state in the nation to do business. Along with that, of course, comes heavy traffic and congestion.
For counties across the country, generally, this is an important conversation, as we are tasked with directly supporting 78 percent of the public transit systems across the United States. So, this $39 billion in new investments is greatly appreciated and will be very impactful to the services that we provide in the public transit arena.
Counties invest over $23 billion each year in the operation, maintenance, and construction of transit utilities and mass transit systems, including subways, surface rails, and buses.
That’s all to say that counties play a critical role in the nation’s transportation and infrastructure network, and we appreciate all the work that has gone into the creation of the bipartisan infrastructure investment and Jobs Act.
Here in Fulton County and the 13-county metro Atlanta region, we have done extensive planning for expanding our transit system, including site visits with our county and city leaders to transit assets of other major metropolitan areas. And our state has legislatively created a regional authority to coordinate efforts with existing transit agencies across our region.
Unfortunately, we do not have the resources necessary to implement those plans. So, we’re especially pleased to see the increase in the Small Starts program project eligibility from $300- to $400 million, along with the increase of $50 million in the federal match.
For Fulton County and Metro Atlanta, this means that many of our transit expansion projects will now be eligible to receive this expanded federal funding.
The bottom line is that this bipartisan infrastructure package provides mobility options for our community, and the transit provisions provide connectivity, jobs, and sustainability for the growth that we know is coming. In Metro Atlanta alone, we expect to grow by 2 million people in the next 20 years.
So, we’ve long suffered with local governments being the — required to fund what really is a regional problem.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
COMMISSIONER HAUSMANN: The reality is each county is limited to funding projects within our county borders. And our authority may stop at the county border, but our transportation needs do not.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HAUSMANN: So, we can’t do it without the support and partnership of our state and federal government. And this bipartisan infrastructure package will help us do just that. So, thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Look, what usually is — I know all of you understand this — and the other over a thousand people on this call understand — local officials — is that when you talk about the commute times and public transportation, you know, the — in Georgia, public transportation spends an extra — those on public transportation spend an extra 74.1 percent of their time commuting. And non-white hol- — [non-]white households are 3.9 times more likely to commute on public transportation.
Seven percent of the trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past their useful life. And based on the formula funding alone, Georgia would expect to get $1.4 billion over the next five years — a significant portion of which would be in your county — under the infrastructure investment and Jobs Act to improve public transportation across the state.
When you spend that much time commuting — all of you know this — it costs taxpayers — it cost those commuters a lot of money. For example, the average — the average Georgia driver, on average, spends $375 a year in costs due to driving on roads that need to be repaired.
You have a circumstance in your state where 374 bridges and over two thousand six — 260 miles of highway are in poor condition. So, it all comes down to being able to move and move without creating additional pollution, and generating the ability to move safely and do it in a way that will significantly increase business opportunities and the like.
So, I — having been a county official myself, I know that it’s — it’s hard to convince people that, because you overlap cities and towns and the like, that, you know, it all affects you; you don’t have it all.
So, thank you for your support. And I think it’s going to be very helpful, I hope.
COMMISSIONER HAUSMANN: Thank you. I’m glad to hear you’ve got Georgia on your mind, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I do, for more — for more than one reason. (Laughs.)
Look, I finally want to turn to Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Principal Chief Hoskin, your administration has invested millions of dollars to bring high-speed Internet to Cherokee Nation, especially rural Cherokee communities. How will the additional Tribal broadband resources support your Tribal citizens? Or whatever else you want to talk about. But it seems to me that ought to be — that — that should be of significant help to you, I hope.
PRINCIPAL CHIEF HOSKIN: It is. Thank you, Mr. President. It’s a great honor to be with you and with all the leaders on this panel.
This bill is important for the country. But I want you to know that the bill is important to me because you didn’t forget Indian Country. This bill, overall, has more than $11 billion in investment in Indian Country. That is historic — potentially transformational investment for Tribes across this country. That’s very important.
THE PRESIDENT: Indian nations. Indian nations.
PRINCIPAL CHIEF HOSKIN: Indian Nations across this country, working as sovereigns — as sovereigns with the United States.
For us, broadband is a high priority. You know, no Cherokee kid ought to be going to school without access to high-speed Internet. No elder ought to lack access to the kind of telemedicine that we’re making available to our people because they live in an area without connectivity.
The entrepreneurs that we know are out there in some of our little communities and our bigger communities — they shouldn’t miss opportunities to develop because they live in an area where they can’t connect with the rest of the world. Cherokee families ought to be able to connect just like anyone else.
And connectivity and broadband is important for the country. In Indian Country, the problem is particularly difficult in the rural parts of Indian Country, in particular. So, we’re dealing with that at Cherokee Nation.
We’ve already, as you indicated, have invested heavily into that cause for the reasons that I mentioned. But there’s another reason, which is that, if a lot of these small communities in these rural areas wither on the vine because they don’t have broadband and a chance to succeed in the new economy, that means Cherokee lifeways and culture and our language withers on the vine, and we can’t let that happen. So, this is an important moment for the Cherokee Nation.
During COVID, what we found is what we already were concerned about, which is that when you have a lack of high-speed Internet, when you have the worst public health crisis in living memory, and students are having to change the way they learn, and elders are having to be more isolated, families are having to socially distance from their fellow Cherokees — we know that it’s more important than ever to stay connected.
And what we found — we used a Department of Interior grant, and we found that 35 of our communities lacked connectivity, but we went right to work to stand up high — hotspots in those communities. We issued 11,000 hotspots to students and other Cherokees who needed them, just to get us through. That was important. It was a significant investment, but it really is a drop in the bucket, Mr. President, of what we need as we went out and visited with these families.
So, we are applying for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity grant through the United States Department of Commerce, the National Telecommunications —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
PRINCIPAL CHIEF HOSKIN: — and Infrastrati- — Information Administration. What this bill does is it injects $2 billion — more dollars into that program. It extends the life of the program by four years.
That’s going to let Tribes, like the Cherokee Nation, that are already working on this to grab those dollars and put them immediately to work to scale up what I’m talking about. So those communities where we put up hotspots will — will build out the infrastructure needed to make permanent conductivity in those communities. We’ll make sure that those kids and those elders stay connected.
And the other thing that your administration has done is its commitment to working and consulting in a meaningful manner with Tribal nations. And that’s why we have confidence when we work with your Department of Commerce that we can tailor these programs in a way that’s flexible, that reflects what we need in our rural communities, in our Cherokee communities. We have great confidence in that. So, it’s as much about the respect as it is about the dollars. But the dollars, of course, are indispensable, and they are plentiful in this bill.
We recently visited, Mr. President, an elderly family — some Cherokee elders that are fluent Cherokee speakers. They live in a little community called Bellefonte. They had told us that they actually didn’t go to their telemedicine appointments during COVID when we had to keep our health facilities limited in terms of access because they didn’t have connectivity. And we didn’t know it, so we partnered with Starlink and we have high-speed Internet to their home.
And so, our Deputy Chief, Bryan Warner, and I got on a virtual conference with them. They said they’d only seen something like that on TV. They never thought they would do it. It’s opening up an entire world to them.
And what it told me, Mr. President, and what I think it tells a lot of Tribal leaders, is that we have a chance to get a foothold in the economy for our people.
But this is very important: Those are fluent Cherokee speakers. If we don’t succeed right now in connecting elders to kids, connecting schools, connecting healthcare, we will lose something that’s irreplaceable. It’s more irreplaceable than the economic development that we know this bill will generate. It’s more important than anything, and that is Cherokee language and culture.
When we look back, Mr. President, generations from now, and know that we saved it, know that Cherokee language is thriving and that our economy is doing good and that our reservation is a place where there’s prosperity — we’re going to look back at this moment, and we’re going to see that we had this opportunity to make transformational change.
We couldn’t have done it without our federal partners. We’re certainly proud of our leadership. We couldn’t do it without this bill, I’m confident.
And you have my great appreciation and admiration for that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you have my appreciation. You don’t owe me anything or nothing to appreciate. This is — this is what we used to do when I first got to the Senate. You know, we actually worked with one another.
And look, one of the things that affects Tribal lands, in my — in my experience — not just Cherokee, but across the board — is that they’re significantly at risk for the effects of climate change. And infrastructure investments that we’re talking about here is going to invest in — in everything from forest management, to helping communities build resilience, to wildfires and floods, and everything from elevating buildings to roads to bridges. Because we have to — we have to build back to where we know the minimum requirements are now, and we got to do it better.
You can’t build back to what it used to be. You used to be able to build back a road to what it was before it got flooded out, before — you can’t do that anymore because the climate has changed so significantly already, and so you have to elevate. You have to move.
You see what’s happening on — at least in the East Coast, from Florida up to where I live in Delaware, and beyond — along the coast. You see the effects of the rising seas and buildings literally sinking or tilting, and losing their ability to stand.
I mean, it’s — it’s a big deal, the things that are changing. And so — and I think it’s particularly, you know, important in — in Tribal lands — elevating buildings, roads, bridges, winterizing the power grid, and the like. And so, there’s a lot to do that benefits everybody.
You know, one of the points I want to make — and I’ll get off my soapbox here — but, you know, my observation in my years in public life have been that when ordinary folks do well, everybody does well. Everybody does well. The wealthy do very well. The upper-middle class do very well. The middle cla- — I mean it sincerely. When it works from the middle out and the bottom up, everybody does well.
And there’s all kinds of studies from the great universities in your states demonstrating that that is the case. And so, this is what this is about.
And I think we have a real chance to deliver everything from clean drinking water, to access to Internets, to roads that are not congested, to dealing with the —
I was up in — I think it was Wisconsin, and I was talking to a group of folks in a factory. And — and then I spoke afterwards, and they showed me around. And there were about a couple hundred people. And in front of me, in this factory floor, were the elected officials — the governor and other folks — and to my right were all the folks — both the hourly workers and the management.
And I talked about this having safety provisions in it. And they all looked at me like, “What the hell does that mean?” And I said, “I bet every one of you can name for me the intersections in your town, in your city where the highest accident rate is, where the most pedestrians are hit, where bicyclists get killed, where there is (inaudible).
And in unison — not a joke — if there were 120 people there, 100 of them started shaking their heads, “Yeah, we know.” This does a lot of practical things — a lot of practical things to change the environment that people live in.
So I — and there’s a lot more to do. I know. And we still have to get it through the House and get things moving.
But I want to thank you all for your time, your insight, and your continued leadership. And I want to thank you for — we’re closer than we’ve ever been a long time to making a once-in-a-generation investment.
You know, this total investment in roads, in highways is bigger than we did in the — Eisenhower’s, you know, Interstate Highway System. You know, this is — the — the only analogies out there and the vote to get it are similar.
Our — you know, we started off with, you know, the Erie Canal. We started off with moving people west. We started off the Intercontinental Railroad in the late 1800s. All — all kidding aside, we linked the coast. Now we came along and we did — and we had the — all the way up to Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. It has literally changed the way Americans live, changed the way we live and the way we’ve developed.
And now we’re investing as much money or more money to do those kinds of things that can make us better connected and also give us more breathing room and clean the air a little bit.
So, I want to thank you all because almost all of you — I think all of you signed on to the bipartisan effort of mayors and — and — as well as other state and county officials to support this.
And I promise you, we’re going to stay on top of making sure, as long as I’m here, that it gets out, it gets out swiftly, and it gets out economically, and it gets out in a way that builds this country.
And I know I got criticized when I was running. Said — I said I was running for three reasons. One, to restore the soul of the country. Two, to rebuild the backbone — the middle-class and working-class people — of this country, and not leave them behind. And thirdly, to unite the country.
I know a lot of people were skeptical, but we can do this. We can do this. We’re going to disagree in philosophy on some of the things, but we can do this. I’m convinced we can.
And, by the way, I’m going to say something that has no direct bearing on — immediate bearing on what any of you are dealing with. But, you know, when I was over in the NATO conference; or I was over for the G7, with the largest industrial nations in the world; and when I was at a, you know, summit with Putin — and I’m about to go do the same thing, in terms of the G20 — you know what affects our — the attitude of the American — of the rest of the world about the United States? “Can we still do — get things done?” Not a joke. Not a joke.
When I went over, I said — with those seven leaders, I said, “We’re back.” And the response was, “For how long? For how long? You guys can’t get anything done.”
I’ll conclude by saying that, you know, when I won — just because of my Irish background — heritage — they were ringing bells in Ireland and painting my picture on the side of buildings and the like. But the Taoiseach of Ireland — the Prime Minister of Ireland — said something just before I got sworn in that made a lot of sense. He said, “I think I’m — I’m not sure what America can do anymore. They can’t even deal with COVID. They can’t lead anymore.”
That’s what the world is looking at us — they’re wondering.
And you got guys like Xi Jinping and Putin who think the answer is autocracy, because democracies can’t get together. The world is changing so rapidly — so rapidly. We can’t get together and answer the big, tough questions.
I really mean it. I’m not joking. I promise you, this is what your children and grandchildren are going to be writing about in their senior thesis in graduate school.
And we got to make sure we can demonstrate we can get things done. And it can’t be done by one party.
So, thank you all so very, very, very much. And as I said, as my Grandpop would say, “With the grace of God, the goodwill of the neighbors, and the creek not rising, we’re going to get all this done.”
And — and I hope you all take a look at my Build Back Better plan that has to do with a lot of other pieces that are — that the Senate just agreed to move forward on. You may not agree, but take a look at it and see if any of it has a value to your communities. Okay?
Thanks, everybody. I really do appreciate it. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Q Are you worried about the debt ceiling, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Nope. They’re not going to let us default. Eight billion –- eight trillion of that is on Republican conscience.
3:59 P.M. EDT