PORTLAND, Ore. — Speaking at a hangar near Portland International Airport Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden highlighted several ongoing and planned upgrades to the airport as examples of the kind of national infrastructure renewal that will be delivered through the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that he signed last fall.
Air Force One arrived in Portland at about 12:45 p.m. Thursday, rolling up to the tarmac outside the Oregon Air National Guard base to the south of the airport.
After greeting dignitaries including Gov. Kate Brown and most of Oregon's congressional delegation, the president's motorcade traveled across the airport campus to the site at the west end of the runways where the new main terminal roof is being built, where Biden met with members of the construction crew.
Back at the hangar, Mayor Ted Wheeler, Brown, Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer each gave brief introductory speeches touting infrastructure developments in Oregon.
"(The terminal roof) is an incredible project being assembled out there, an incredible investment in mass timber," Merkley said, casting it as an example of Oregon's leadership in the field of mass timber manufacturing and construction.
Biden took to stage just after 2:30 p.m. and almost immediately began talking about the airport project, describing it as part of an overall $25 billion investment in airport modernization as part of the infrastructure package that he signed late last year.
"Airports all across America are second rate," he said, adding that America has "fallen behind" on airport infrastructure by failing to invest in its own facilities.
Biden put particular emphasis on the planned project to upgrade one of the Portland airport's two main runways to make it seismically resilient, allowing it to remain functional directly after a major earthquake, providing a critical route for relief supplies.
He also spoke about the need to upgrade or revitalize roads and bridges throughout Oregon, as well as the state's water, internet and power transmission infrastructure.
Biden's speech also touched on the issue of inflation, which he blamed primarily on global supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting impact on energy prices.
He said he wanted to combat inflation by working to lower the cost of basic necessities for ordinary families, not only for gas but also things like prescription drugs, citing the high price of insulin as an example.
After speaking for a little more than 20 minutes, Biden departed for a fundraising event at the nearby Portland Yacht Club.
People gathered outside the club hoping for a glimpse of the president as he arrived, but they only got a brief look at the presidential limo before he was whisked inside.
Michelle Wickliff lives nearby. She took her lunchbreak a few minutes early to see if Biden had arrived.
"I think it's pretty cool — in my lifetime, it's pretty cool," Wickliff said. "He's just a block away even if I don't get to see him."
"Well, it's just kind of exciting to have a United States president come to Portland," said Mary Ellen Larose, another neighbor. "We just live right down the street here and just figured this is a history-making thing, so might as well get here and see what's going on."
Some of the onlookers told KGW that they were there because the presidential visit was an exciting moment, but others said they hoped Biden would pass through the area near Marine Drive and 33rd Avenue, known for its homeless camps, and get a better sense of the issues Portland is struggling with.
"They were talking in a news article about them maybe trying to get things cleaned up," said Larose. "I think it's really important that he sees the situation here in Portland and gets an idea of the people that are suffering here."
"I hope he goes down our 'scenic route' on 33rd," echoed Wickliff.
The motorcade returned to the airport at about 4:30 p.m., and Biden quickly boarded Air Force One and took off for Seattle less than 15 minutes later. He's set to address environmental policies there on Friday, Earth Day.
The infrastructure bill passed with bipartisan votes, and few disagree that it's sorely needed, so most of the criticism aimed at Biden from his Republican opponents on Thursday concerned his other policies — some of which may overlap.
Congressman Cliff Bentz, a Republican who represents Oregon's staunchly conservative 2nd District, said that he doubts Oregonians will see results from Biden's infrastructure promises anytime soon.
"He's promising with one hand to put all this money into Oregon, and with the other — he didn't say it loudly today, didn't even mention it — that you may never see them because of the environmental issues," Bentz said. "We need our roads, we need our bridges, we need our pipelines, we need our oil-producing areas if we are going to have any effect on driving down inflation."
Republican Party statements at both the state and national level repeatedly cast Biden as responsible for 40-year high inflation and high gas prices, in addition to a "preventable crime spike," but made little mention of the reason for his visit.