Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from President Biden’s visit in Seattle on Friday, April 22, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated.
President Joe Biden spent Earth Day in Seattle as part of a two-day visit to the Pacific Northwest.
After spending the day in Portland on Thursday talking infrastructure, Biden signed an executive order at Seward Park Friday morning – aimed at protecting old-growth forests from the ravages of wildfires.
Biden also made an appearance in Auburn to deliver a speech at Green River College’s Mel Lindbloom Student Union. He discussed his work “bringing down costs for American families,” and growing the clean-energy economy, according to the White House.
He departed from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for Philadelphia this afternoon. His departure was delayed because of reports of a suspicious item on the north end of the airport, officials said.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the presidential visit.
Biden’s executive order in Seattle spotlights role of old-growth forests in climate change fight
In Seattle’s Seward Park, President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order to inventory mature and old-growth trees, reflecting a high-profile and intensifying global focus on the role that forests can play in combating climate change.
The order states that American forests absorb more than 10% of annual U.S. economywide greenhouse-gas emissions. It calls conserving old-growth and mature forests on federal lands “critical to protecting these and other ecosystem services provided by these forests.”
The order called out climate change and catastrophic wildfires — not logging — as threats to these trees, and does not prescribe how these forests should be managed once the inventory is finished. In the executive order, the inventory is part of a broader suite of actions that include reforestation, seed collection and developing “climate smart” strategies to address the threats to mature and old-growth forests.
This action was a highlight of Biden’s two-day swing through the Northwest that began Thursday with a talk in Portland about infrastructure investments.
Meet the Sammamish teenager who introduced President Biden
Juliana Graceffo, a senior at Sammamish’s Eastlake High School, took the day off school Friday, stood on a stage in front of the nation, and raised from her hip the small medical device that keeps her alive.
“Here,” Graceffo said to Washington’s governor, senators and hundreds of assembled dignitaries, “is the insulin pump that delivers the essential insulin hormone which I need to survive.”
The pump, she explained, communicates wirelessly with a glucose monitor to continuously administer insulin. It’s a massive improvement over when Graceffo was first diagnosed with diabetes 14 years ago and needed a dozen finger pricks and multiple injections a day to keep her blood sugar regulated.
But at the same time, the cost of insulin, a basic hormone that’s been manufactured for nearly 100 years, has skyrocketed from about $40 a vial to about $300.
Then she introduced someone who she hopes will be able to do something about it.
“A president who understands the hopes and dreams of families like mine across this country,” Graceffo said. “Please welcome President Biden.”
Rice cooker in SUV delays Biden departure, Sea-Tac official says
President Joe Biden’s departure from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was delayed, and Air Force One moved to a different area Friday afternoon because of reports of a suspicious item on the north end of the airport, officials said.
Someone alerted security about a suspicious item in the open window of a black SUV near the LSG Sky Chefs facility on South 154th Street and 24th Avenue South between 2:30 and 3 p.m., before Biden arrived for his Friday departure to Philadelphia, airport spokesperson Perry Cooper said. The aircraft was moved to the runway, where Biden then boarded once he arrived by helicopter from Auburn at 4:20 p.m.
Security officials had determined the item wasn't a threat — it was a rice cooker, Cooper said. The Port of Seattle Police Department is investigating, Cooper added.
Hundreds of flight departures and arrivals were delayed, as security protocols require air traffic to clear for at least 30 minutes.
“One of the challenges you have when Air Force One comes into your community is you have to do what they have to for security,” Cooper said. “With that in mind, if they want to stop air traffic, then that is going to have a rolling effect for all those flights when that delay happens. If it extends, then all those airlines have to catch up afterward.”
Biden departs Sea-Tac
Marine One landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport around 4:20 p.m., per a pool report, and President Joe Biden boarded Air Force One immediately. The plane, headed toward Philadelphia, took off at 4:33 p.m.
More than 100 flights in and out of Sea-Tac were delayed mid-afternoon Friday, according to a Port of Seattle list of flight statuses. Security protocols require all air traffic to stop for at least 30 minutes before the president's arrival and shortly afterward, Sea-Tac tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Biden set to depart from Sea-Tac
President Joe Biden traveled by helicopter from Auburn Municipal Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, per a pool report. Biden will head to Philadelphia this evening.
Biden focuses on prescription drugs in Auburn speech
President Joe Biden focused on ever-rising health care and prescription drug costs as a driver of booming inflation, during a speech in the Seattle suburb of Auburn Friday, calling for the federal government to take bolder action to limit drug prices.
Biden called for a $35 monthly cap on the cost of insulin, for a new tax on drug companies that charge exorbitant rates, for Medicare to be able to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs and for a $2,000 annual limit on how much seniors on Medicare pay for prescriptions.
"Prescription drugs are outrageously expensive," Biden said, near the end of a 35-minute speech.
Biden spoke softly for much of the speech, as he touched on other topics, including the Affordable Care Act, community colleges and the cost of child care.
But he raised his voice forcefully as he contrasted drug companies with their customers.
"Imagine what its like if you don’t have insurance and you don't have the cash to look at your child knowing what they need and knowing there's not a damn thing you can do about it," Biden said. "You're deprived of your dignity, how do you look at your child?"
"There's no excuse, none, we're not asking the drug companies to do anything they can't afford."
Prepare for south King County highway delays
Those moving through south King County Friday afternoon should expect major highway delays, as President Joe Biden visits Auburn’s Green River College.
Secret Service protocols have prevented local transportation departments from sharing specifics of when and which highways have closed, but Google maps is showing portions of Interstate 5 between Fife and south Seattle and Highway 18 near Auburn all blocked to traffic.
Biden is set to depart from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for Philadelphia at 2:30 p.m. Drivers should expect continued delays around the Seattle area, even as the roads reopen. The Washington State Department of Transportation urges caution and patience.
Biden introduced by Sammamish teen and her mother
At Green River College in Auburn, President Joe Biden was introduced by Elisa Graceffo and her daughter, Juliana Graceffo, who spoke about insulin affordability, according to a pool report.
Juliana Graceffo, a senior at Eastlake High School in Sammamish, has type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed when she was 4 years old, according to a Seattle Children’s feature about her, and her health depends on blood sugar tests and insulin doses. She represented Washington at the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) Children’s Congress in 2019.
Biden arrives at Green River College in Auburn
Washington Republicans blame Biden for inflation, crime, opioids
Washington Republicans, in a media call to coincide with President Joe Biden's visit, faulted the president for inflation, crime and the opioid epidemic.
Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, blamed Biden for inflation “burdening Washington families, American families, for the better part of the last year.
“I would love to hear more from President Biden, I don’t think we will, as to how we’re going to stop the spending that is driving up costs,” Heimlich said.
Tiffany Smiley, a Republican from Pasco who is challenging U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, called inflation "a tax that hurts low- and middle-income families the most."
"We need to stop spending money and we need to stop spending it immediately," said Smiley, a former nurse.
Smiley said Biden has created a "perfect avenue" for fentanyl and other drugs to cross the southern border.
2 homeless encampments cleared before Biden visit
The city of Seattle cleared two homeless encampments within a few blocks of the Westin Seattle this week in anticipation of President Joe Biden’s visit.
Jamie Housen, spokesperson for Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, said that almost 20 people were told to leave where they were staying so that the city could close the streets and limit access to sidewalks.
Seattle Parks and Recreation staff gave two days' notice that any remaining belongings must be removed by Thursday.
The mayor’s office said that staff were unaware of Biden’s exact travel routes and timing but that the encampments were cleared to ensure safety for the president.
Housen said that nine tents and shelter structures were removed from Virginia Street to Olive Way between Sixth and Fifth avenues. Three people staying there left on their own and eight others were referred to shelter by the city’s encampment outreach team.
Four tents were removed between Lenora and Virginia streets, from Fifth Avenue to Fourth Avenue. Four people there left voluntarily and four others were referred to shelters.
Biden signs executive order
At Seattle's Seward Park, Joe Biden has signed an executive order aimed at protecting old-growth forests.
The order directs 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.
Awaiting President Biden at Green River College
At Green River College, a community college with about 8,000 full-time students in Auburn, about half an hour south of Seattle, a select group of students are among the 200 or so invited guests waiting to hear Biden speak.
Ramon Santiago, 27, of Tacoma, is in his third year at Green River, pursuing a nursing degree. Santiago wants to hear what Biden can do to make college more affordable, especially for those going into nursing.
"It's definitely something that's daunting for a lot of people, how high the cost is," Santiago said.
Thadra Edwards is in her second year, also studying nursing. She wants to hear "what changes he has coming for the community, for nursing, to improve equitability and equality in the world."
Expect slow train travel in South Seattle
Commuters on the Link light rail should expect slow train travel along Martin Luther King Jr. Way in South Seattle between 10:45 and 11:15 a.m., Sound Transit said on Twitter.
Traffic will be impacted as President Joe Biden heads to Seward Park.
SLU streetcar service temporarily interrupted
King County Metro said on Twitter at 10:05 am that the streetcar in South Lake Union would be temporarily closed. While local transportation departments are restricted in sharing President Joe Biden’s movements through the Seattle area, he’s due at Seward Park soon and stayed in the Westin Thursday night, near the south end of the streetcar.
It was not immediately clear how long the interruption would last.
Police seen shutting off access to stretch of I-5
Secret Service security restrictions mean neither the department of transportation for Washington state or Seattle can say exactly which roads are closed or when for President Joe Biden’s visit. But as Biden made his way south from downtown Seattle Friday morning, police were seen shutting off access to Interstate 5.
On WSDOT’s traffic map, the stretch of highway from near Pike Street downtown to Graham Street in Rainier Valley was entirely red, indicating limited to no traffic flow. WSDOT’s cameras appeared to be shut off in anticipation of the president’s motorcade.
Both SDOT and WSDOT have warned drivers that Friday travel could be unpredictable as Biden makes several stops in the Seattle area. King County Metro and Sound Transit said bus routes through downtown would be rerouted and advised transit riders to check the agencies’ websites for updating information. Riders can see how their route is affected by visiting Metro’s service advisories page or Sound Transit's service alerts page.
WA politicians waiting for Biden at Seward Park
Notable Washington politicians, including Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell; U.S. Reps. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish; and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., are among the people waiting for President Joe Biden to arrive at Seward Park on Friday.
U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, and Rick Larsen, D-Everett, have also been spotted.
Be prepared for delays, WSDOT says
The Washington Department of Transportation has not confirmed the precise timing and location of any Friday closures. “For security reasons put in place by the Secret Service we can’t share those specifics,” the agency said on Twitter yesterday.
This morning, the agency tweeted out a reminder to anyone traveling in the Seattle area to expect delays.
Biden to issue Earth Day order to safeguard old-growth forests
President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Friday in Seattle laying the groundwork for protecting some of the biggest and oldest trees in America’s forests, according to five individuals briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not yet finalized.
Biden is expected to sign the executive order during a morning event at Seattle’s Seward Park, joined by officials including Gov. Jay Inslee.
He will direct the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests nationwide within a year, three of the individuals said. He will also require the agencies to identify threats to these trees, such as wildfire and climate change, and to use that information to craft policies that protect them.
The president’s order, however, will not ban logging of mature and old-growth trees, they added, and the administration is not considering a nationwide prohibition.
It will include initiatives aimed at restoring U.S. forests ravaged by wildfire, drought and insects, requiring federal agencies to come up with a reforestation goal by 2030. It will also address major problems facing tree planting efforts in the West – insufficient seeds and seedlings – by directing agencies to develop plans to increase cone and seed collection and nursery capacity.
Other pieces of the order are aimed at curbing deforestation overseas, promoting economic development in regions with major timber industries and calculating the economic value of other natural resources such as wetlands.
How President Joe Biden’s visit is affecting Seattle-area roads, freeways and transit service
With President Joe Biden in Seattle, some temporary changes to transit service downtown and road closures are expected, as well as likely congestion on nearby highways.
As Air Force One landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at about 5:15 p.m. Thursday, roads and highways began closing in anticipation of Biden’s motorcade, snarling traffic on Interstate 5, Interstate 90 and Highway 520.
The Washington Department of Transportation would not confirm the precise timing and location of the closures. “For security reasons put in place by the Secret Service we can’t share those specifics,” the agency said on Twitter. Nevertheless, traffic maps showed long streaks of red heading into and out of Seattle.
Travel times were especially bad for those trying to travel north and south through Seattle. Where it normally take drivers 43 minutes to go from Alderwood to Southcenter, it was double that, at 87 minutes, Thursday evening.
WSDOT advised drivers to expect intermittent heavy congestion in the Seattle area Thursday evening and Friday due to temporary closures of the freeway system due to the president’s visit.
Biden spends Thursday in Portland talking infrastructure
In Portland on Thursday, President Joe 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 then 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 and 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 also 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.
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