President Joe Biden touched down in New Jersey on Oct. 25 to promote the benefits of his $1 trillion infrastructure package and $2 trillion reconciliation bill both stalled in Congress, standing alongside Gov. Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat.
The day-long visit came just eight days before voters head to the polls to decide whether Murphy deserves another four years as governor, or be replaced by the Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. But both the White House and Murphy’s office focused solely on this as an effort to promote the president’s infrastructure plans.
Murphy and Biden informally broke ground on the long-stalled $1.6 billion Portal North Bridge project, which would replace the century-old swing drawbridge that often gets stuck in the open position and snarls rail traffic into Manhattan. The president recited the now familiar method workers use to get back into position.
“You know what fixes it in the 21st century? Someone comes out with a sledgehammer to align the track,” Biden said during his remarks at the NJ Transit Maintenance Complex in Kearny. “This is more than an inconvenience or a nuisance. This is an impediment.”
The bridge project alone could generate 8,000 New Jersey construction jobs, Biden said. And it’s part of a broader $30 billion regional infrastructure plan in the New York City region, called the Gateway Development Project.
Biden first stop in the state was the East End Elementary in North Plainfield to tout the education and social safety benefits in the plan. All told, the proposals could include billions of dollars for New Jersey to combat climate change, expanded childcare access, lower health care and prescription drug costs and improve infrastructure.
In addition, some members of the state’s congressional delegation are pushing for repeal of the $10,000 cap federal deductions for state and local property taxes, which has taken a considerable bite out of many New Jerseyans’ wallets.
And funds also could be included for the $12 billion effort to add a new Hudson River rail tunnel and to repair the existing tunnel, also components of the Gateway project. Like the bridge, the tunnel is more than a century old and in dire need of repair, especially after damages caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Both are critical links in the Northeast Corridor, a stretch of rail between Boston and Washington D.C. and one of the most-heavily traveled stretches in the world. It’s frequented by Amtrak and in New Jersey, by NJ Transit.
Advocates warn that if the tunnel goes offline in even one direction, cripple the regional economy could be crippled and force commuters to use other modes of transportation.
“When it works, the Northeast Corridor fully functions. People get to work on time. Our economy moves forward,” Murphy said. “When it doesn’t, the Northeast Corridor, the people it carries, and all the economic activity it supports, comes to a screeching halt.”
“Over the recent past, that’s happened more and more often.”
Without naming them, Biden jabbed at a “Republican governor” who scuttled Gateway’s predecessor in 2010: Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who killed the Access to the Region’s Core Tunnel proposal that year citing cost overruns.
Congress is expected to have another go at the measures this week, and Biden told reporters before departing for Newark Liberty International Airport that he hopes to have a deal before Wednesday, according to a White House press report. “These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency,” Biden said in his remarks.
Officially, the visit is being billed as a means to promote the proposals, part of the president’s “Build Back Better” campaign in support of the two plans.
“Yeah, sure, right,” said Bob Hugin, who chairs the NJGOP organization, during a media call on the morning of the presidential visit. “Joe Biden is the president of the United States. Phil Murphy is running for reelection.”
But the White House maintained that the trip had nothing to do with Murphy’s reelection campaign. “Yes, as you know, the president did endorse Gov. Murphy. But as I said, he’s in New Jersey today to continue highlighting the importance of his two domestic economic policies,” Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, according to a White House pool report.
Biden’s erstwhile boss, former President Barack Obama, stumped for Murphy on Oct. 23, while First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff have all made campaign appearances in recent weeks.
A poll last week from Emerson college showed Murphy with a six-point lead over Ciattarelli, compared to a 16-point lead Murphy enjoyed against his challenger in a Monmouth University poll from August, fueling speculation that Murphy and his campaign are pulling out all the stops.
But with Biden’s poll numbers lagging — he has just a 38% approval rating among Americans according to Quinnipiac University — Patrick Murray, who heads the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said Biden needs Murphy more than the other way around. “Joe Biden’s popularity among Democrats, while still high, has been dropping and it’s not been enthusiastic,” Murray told NJBIZ. Certainly it’s not as high as Harris, Obama or Jill Biden.
And so while there are indeed political implications, Murray continued, the visit shows that “Murphy wants to be a national leader and this is a good way to get in the good graces of an incumbent in the White House.”
“This is the kind of thing that Joe Biden will not forget. This is a show of loyalty,” he said.