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When he was in the White House, Donald Trump referred to Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” But for President Joe Biden, the city is the first stop in what will likely be a national tour to showcase the value of his agenda.
Biden on Wednesday plans to hold up Baltimore’s port as a blueprint for the rest of the nation on how to reduce shipping bottlenecks that have held back the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, according to administration officials who insisted on anonymity to discuss the event. The infrastructure package includes $17 billion for upgrading ports — an urgent need as a backlog of ships waiting to dock at major transit hubs has fueled inflation and damaged public perceptions of Biden’s economic stewardship.
The port in Baltimore is adding container cranes as well as a 50-foot berth where ships can be unloaded. Baltimore’s port is also benefiting from grants to upgrade the Howard Street Tunnel, a brick-lined underpass for trains that opened in 1895. The tunnel would be expanded so that shipping containers could be double-stacked on railcars, making it easier to move goods out of the port.
Nearly 90% of voters in Baltimore backed Biden in last year’s election. The president last stopped in Baltimore for a CNN town hall on Oct. 21. Maryland’s largest city at 586,000 people, Baltimore embodies the complexities of an increasingly diverse America at a time of heated national politics.
Many Americans have seen the poverty, crime, political corruption and vacant row houses on TV shows such as HBO’s “The Wire.” The unrest following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray from injuries in a police van helped to propel a national movement for respecting the rights and lives of Black Americans.
But Baltimore also contains deep pockets of wealth and prosperity in what is a microcosm of the broader inequality confronting the nation. There are the tony mansions of the Guilford neighborhood, elite private schools, celebrated restaurants and the prestige of Johns Hopkins University.
As president, Trump slammed the majority Black city on Twitter frequently, calling it “the WORST IN NATION.” But while Trump scorned Baltimore, Biden sees a test case for his agenda that goes beyond the ports. His child tax credits are sending thousands of dollars to families in a city with a child poverty rate north of 30%. Work has begun to renovate and modernize the historic Penn Station, possibly improving rail transit across the Northeastern Corridor.
A big part of Biden’s pitch is that he succeeded on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, whereas Trump failed despite routinely hosting infrastructure weeks. His predecessor never delivered for the country’s cities and ports, Biden said Tuesday during a virtual event hosted by the Democratic National Committee.
“So it was left to us,” he said. “We got the job done.”