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Biden to kick off roadshow pushing for high-speed internet for every U.S. household

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For many Americans, it's the summer travel season, and President Biden is no exception.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

He and his cabinet will visit more than 20 states to try to get Americans excited about the administration's infrastructure, manufacturing and clean energy projects. He starts in Washington this morning and by Wednesday will be in Chicago.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deepa Shivaram joins us now to talk about this. Good morning.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey there.

INSKEEP: OK, so we know the president loves to promote trains and bridges, but isn't he starting with a different sort of infrastructure here?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, it's actually Infrastructure Week and/or Month. So the president is starting this tour off with a speech from the White House about access to high-speed internet. Right now, the White House says there are about 8.5 million homes and businesses around the country that don't have internet. The announcement the president is making is that about $40 billion from the 2021 infrastructure law will now be up for grabs so states can apply for that money and use it to expand high-speed internet access. White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients says this will be especially helpful for rural communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF ZIENTS: The president's Invest in America (ph) agenda is bringing internet to people across the country and at the same time creating good paying jobs.

SHIVARAM: And this is just the kickoff. Biden, Vice President Harris, cabinet officials and other White House officials are going to be talking about all kinds of infrastructure programs across the country in these next three weeks.

INSKEEP: Why now?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. So basically, they want to advertise their infrastructure investments. Even though this funding has been around for a while - like I said, that law passed in 2021 - people don't necessarily know about these programs, and they aren't giving the president credit for them. Part of the problem is that these programs take time. For example, these longer-term projects - the immediate impact won't be seen for years. Like this internet funding won't be fully available until 2025, so it'll be a few years before some of these communities actually get connection.

So in the meantime, the White House is trying to argue that these investments are improving the economy and eventually will bring back more money into people's pockets. That's what Biden's going to say on Wednesday in Chicago. But in order to convince people he needs to get into the specifics. I talked to Lindsay Owens about this. She leads the Groundwork Collaborative, a left-leaning economic think tank.

LINDSAY OWENS: They can pull together the number of jobs they've created. They can pull together the cost savings that they're providing families with policies to bring down the cost and the price of insulin, to bring down the price of other prescription drugs over time. So I think the more they can show exactly how these investments benefit Americans' pocketbooks, the better.

INSKEEP: Deepa, is it hard for the president to make this case, given that Americans look at him and give him an underwater approval rating, as they say, and they don't really approve of his handling of the economy either?

SHIVARAM: Right. These programs themselves are politically popular, but the president isn't. The NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll from March showed that just 38% of Americans said that they approved of how Biden is handling the economy. And of course, this is all coming ahead of the 2024 presidential race. So they're trying to show people what another four years under Biden would look like, especially in states where they're trying to win over voters.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deepa Shivaram, always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

SHIVARAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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