President Joe Biden is set to mark Earth Day with a pair of appearances in the Seattle area Friday, including a speech at Green River College in Auburn and the signing of an executive order in Seattle aimed at protecting old-growth forests.
Biden arrived in Washington Thursday evening, touching down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport shortly before 5:30 p.m., flying in Air Force One from an appearance in Portland where he touted massive new federal infrastructure spending.
After speaking at a private political fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee hosted by Microsoft President Brad Smith, Biden was scheduled to spend Thursday night in Seattle, where streets around the downtown Westin Hotel were blocked off and heavily guarded by police.
Biden’s two scheduled events Friday — neither open to the public — are likely to bring further temporary road and freeway closures as the presidential motorcade zooms from place to place.
The visits to Portland and Seattle, the first of Biden’s presidency, mingled political and official stops. The Pacific Northwest foray comes as Biden’s job-approval ratings have faltered in national polls ahead of the midterm elections, driven in part by concerns over inflation that has spiked the cost of groceries, housing and gas.
Seattle represents relatively friendly territory for Biden. The former vice president and longtime senator from Delaware easily carried Washington over Donald Trump in 2020, receiving 58% of the vote. In King County, 75% of voters backed Biden.
Still, the president’s visit is expected to be greeted with some backlash, both from climate activists dissatisfied with his record, and from Republicans seeking to blame his administration for higher consumer costs, burgeoning homeless encampments and crime.
Biden talks, sees infrastructure
In Portland on Thursday, Biden gave a spirited defense of the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation that he wrestled through Congress last year, citing the $25 billion included for improving Portland International and other airports, as well as wide-ranging investments in clean water, highways, bridges, ports and help for communities dealing with drought and wildfires.
“Let’s get the hell up and take this country back in a way that will lead the world again,” Biden said after declaring this the “infrastructure decade.”
Biden spoke at a podium erected in the hangar of the Portland Air National Guard base with doors drawn back to a backdrop that took in Portland International Airport and flanks of Washington’s mountains to the north across the Columbia River.
He began his remarks shortly after 2:30 p.m., and talked for less than half an hour. He shook hands and posed for pictures with members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48 and others among some 100 guests. He then left to attend an afternoon fundraiser at the Portland Yacht Club where he reiterated to supporters he would not send U.S. troops to Ukraine.
Prior to his talk, Biden toured the Portland airport, which is a hub for most of the state’s passenger and air cargo traffic. He praised a massive timber roof that was under construction as well as another project to build a runway able to withstand powerful earthquakes.
Biden also spoke of inflation, which he blamed in part on supply disruptions. He noted rising oil prices that accelerated in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and put in a plug for electrifying more of the transportation fleet.
“We need to do something else. We need to get off this roller coaster of relying on oil and to declare America’s energy independence,” Biden said.
This was Biden’s first trip as president to Portland and Seattle. His Republican predecessor, President Donald Trump, did not visit either city as president and repeatedly attacked Portland politicians’ handling of persistent and sometimes destructive protests in the aftermath of the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.
Biden was warmly welcomed to Portland by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation.
His visit came as Oregon’s economy is surging but Portland is grappling with a huge increase in homicides as well as a homelessness crisis. The homelessness issue, fueled in part by drug addiction, mental illness and escalating housing costs, has been a focal point of much of the city’s political debate. Meanwhile, the protests surrounding racial injustice that thrust Portland into the national headlines in 2020 are less frequent but still continue.
Wheeler noted in his remarks that Portlanders are working hard to recover from the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, learn from a “transformational social justice movement” and address the mental health and substance abuse issues that cause more people to end up homeless.
“I don’t think it’s an understatement to say we have had an incredibly challenging two years,” Wheeler said.
Earth Day in Seattle
In Seattle on Friday, Biden will mark Earth Day by “making the case for his bold agenda to tackle the climate crisis, safeguard our nation’s forests, and bolster our resilience in the face of threats like wildfire,” the White House said in a Thursday news release.
Biden is expected to sign an executive order aimed at protecting old-growth forests from the ravages of wildfires during a morning event at Seattle’s Seward Park, joined by officials including Gov. Jay Inslee.
The order will direct the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conduct within one year the first-ever inventory of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands to identify threats to the trees and develop policies to protect them, The Washington Post reported.
The Seward Park setting may offer Biden a camera-friendly backdrop with its views of Lake Washington and — weather permitting — Mount Rainier. But some climate activists are growing impatient with his administration’s progress on transitioning the U.S. to a clean-energy economy.
Some activists have announced plans to protest near the park to demand bolder action from the administration on shifting away from fossil fuels. Many environmentalists were angered by the Biden administration’s recent announcement that the Interior Department would resume leasing of federal lands for gas and oil.
In an Op-Ed Thursday in The Seattle Times, Jamal Raad and Sam Ricketts, co-founders of the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, urged Biden to quickly pass a legislative package through a budget reconciliation bill to supercharge clean-energy investments.
“The president’s legacy is at stake. Failing to pass this bill now will mean failure to meet the moment, and missing our last best chance to avert climate catastrophe,” wrote Raad and Ricketts, both former political advisers to Inslee.
After the Seward Park event, Biden is scheduled to make an afternoon appearance at Green River College in Auburn, where he’ll speak at the Mel Lindbloom Student Union. There, Biden will discuss “his recent actions to lower costs and give families more breathing room, and will call on Congress to pass his plan to lower health care and energy costs,” according to the White House.
The college was selected “in large part because of the vital career and technical programs we offer that support workforce development for the region and the state,” wrote Suzanne Johnson, the college’s president, in a message to students and staff on Thursday. “The nursing program is of particular interest.”
The college is also in Washington’s 8th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier, who is scheduled to attend the event. Schrier, D-Sammamish, who is in her second term, is the most politically vulnerable of any of Washington’s Democratic members of Congress in this year’s midterm elections.
“As a college, we do not endorse a specific campaign or political agenda. We make our facilities available when they are not being used for educational or athletic purposes,” Johnson wrote.
Other Democratic elected officials expected to attend Biden’s Seattle and Auburn events include U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina. U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, will not attend because she is visiting family in India, according to a spokesperson.
Biden is scheduled to fly out of Seattle on Friday afternoon, heading to Philadelphia and then to New Castle, Delaware, according to the White House.
Seattle Times staff reporters David Gutman and Amanda Zhou contributed to this report.