Biden in the suburbs: 'Think how life will be when it's quicker to drive on Randall Road'
President Joe Biden promised jobs and better access to education in an appeal that may resonate with suburban swing voters during a historic trip to McHenry County College.
"America is back," Biden said Wednesday, promising to fund transportation through an infrastructure package that faces opposition in Congress.
"Think how life will be when it's quicker to drive on Randall Road," Biden quipped, singling out a local traffic hot spot.
It's the president's first visit to Illinois since his inauguration and he picked a county where a majority backed former President Donald Trump in 2020.
And, outside the college, along Route 14 in Crystal Lake, a large crowd of Trump supporters gathered with flags and banners to rail against Biden.
"I think everything they're (Biden administration) doing is harmful to our nation right now," Crystal Lake resident Fred Bock told the Northwest Herald.
But inside, Biden thanked college President Clint Gabbard for delaying a vacation to host him, and jokingly called himself "Jill Biden's husband," noting his wife is a community college professor.
He pivoted to praise MCC's children's learning center, and pledged to reduce child care costs for middle-class families.
In 1972, Biden became a single father caring for two sons after his wife and daughter died in a car crash.
"Without my family, I couldn't have done it," he said. "But not everyone has that kind of support."
The president also brought the need to address climate change home to the crowd.
"Illinois farmers are dealing with more frequent droughts, and just south of here we had an unprecedented tornado," Biden said referring to the twister that hit the Naperville area June 20.
Biden was introduced by Edith Sanchez, student trustee on the MCC board of trustees.
The middle child of seven grew up in a family that had trouble making ends meet. "I thought my dream of going to college was impossible," Sanchez said. "But with financial support, I can pursue my education. MCC has transformed my life."
Democrats Sarah and Brett Fisher of Crystal Lake brought their children, Charlie, 8, and Annalee, 6.
"We are very big supporters of Biden," Sarah Fisher said before the president's arrival. When they learned Biden was coming to the suburbs, "we thought what a historical, momentous opportunity for our kids to see democracy in action."
McHenry Board Chairman Michael Buehler, a Republican, said it was "exciting" that Biden picked the county. "It makes sense. McHenry County really exemplifies the best of the best Illinois has to offer."
Biden garnered 47.7% of the vote in McHenry County and Trump received 50.2% in 2020.
One reason for Biden's visit is the perceived boost for local congressmen facing challenges in the midterms, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville, whose district includes McHenry County.
"It's politically strategic," said Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Biden recognized Underwood during his remarks, as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.
But "this is not a political visit," Underwood said. "It's very much about the president outlining his agenda to help the American people move through this pandemic."
During his remarks, the president touted the infrastructure program and the American Families Plan, which includes checks of up to $300 for eligible families starting this month.
"That's good for families and is good for the economy and it will create more jobs," said Biden, who repeated the word "jobs" several times during his speech.
U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, a Downers Grove Democrat, acknowledged the infrastructure bill could have a rocky ride in Congress.
But "I'm very optimistic we'll get something done in some form," Casten said. "There's a difference between what's politically possible on a bipartisan basis and what's necessary."
Democratic Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin said the American Families Plan "will help a lot of the families in my district who are hurting now."
Biden noted one in every 10 Illinoisans lack access to broadband, and that resonated with Buehler.
"A good portion of the county is underserved with high-speed internet," he said. If the state can leverage federal dollars, "we'll get the most bang for our buck."
Other local Republicans weren't impressed.
State Rep. Martin McLaughlin of Barrington Hills, who was not at Wednesday's event, said that "over and over, more empty promises are coming from political elites passing more unrestricted spending programs that barely if ever accomplish what they promise."
Biden said he would pay for the infrastructure plan through closing corporate income tax loopholes.
And, State Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles, whose district includes McHenry County, called it "great" that a sitting president would visit. But Biden's proposals "all come at a cost," said DeWitte, who was not at the speech. "Federal dollars are our tax dollars."