The White House is making a new effort to show local governments what they can do for their communities, hosting North Carolina officials to highlight funding opportunities and hear firsthand how coronavirus aid, infrastructure dollars and other policies are progressing at the local level.
Thursday’s event reflects the expansion of use of the White House campus as pandemic restrictions are eased. It’s also part of a larger initiative to house municipal, county and state officials on a weekly basis from all 50 states, coinciding with the November midterm election campaign as the White House tries to galvanize Democratic voters.
“We’re entering a phase of our administration where we can do more in terms of convening in the White House,” said Julie Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. “It’s incredibly inspiring for us to get closer to the impact we have on the everyday lives of Americans.”
One of the key messages for North Carolina officials’ visit is the recovery of manufacturing. Steady hiring since the middle of last year brought total US manufacturing jobs to 12.85 million, the most since late 2008, as the financial crisis prompted more than 2 million layoffs in the sector.
Officials are expected to talk with a North Carolina group about Wolfspeed’s plans to invest $5 billion in building a silicon chip factory that is projected to create about 1,800 jobs in the state.
That discussion will follow the first group visit by Ohio officials. President Joe Biden spoke at the opening of a new Intel factory near Columbus earlier this month. Both Ohio and North Carolina have open Senate seats this year.
Thursday’s half-day event was scheduled to feature EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who is visiting from North Carolina. Rodriguez and Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta who is now a senior White House adviser, were also scheduled to speak to the group.
23 North Carolina officials are confirmed to attend, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, state legislators, the mayors of Charlotte, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Concord, Kinston and Durham, in addition to leaders from Wake and Guildford counties.
Just as administration officials want to hear local stories, they also want to highlight the possible opportunities local governments could have from a bipartisan infrastructure bill, incentives for computer chip development and scientific research, and a recent package to encourage climate-friendly energy sources and cap prices prescription drugs.
As part of the day’s events, the White House planned to connect those officials with regional media as a sign that they are trying to get the message across to the general public. It will be crucial in terms of political messages. Republicans seeking control of the House and Senate have blamed high inflation on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package, while the administration says the prices are a byproduct of global events like the pandemic and Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine.
The White House says its efforts have helped workers by quickly lowering the unemployment rate to a low of 3.7%, but the Republican drumbeat is that consumer prices rose 8.3% from a year ago and are the main cause for concern among voters. Gasoline prices have eased since peaking in June, but the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that unemployment was likely to rise to dampen inflation.
“An inflation rate above 8% doesn’t mean families are catching a break — it means just the opposite,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Monday. “That means families continue to see prices go up and up and up all the time.”