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Viewpoint: On infrastructure, Biden can remind nation he’s from Delaware

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By Ben du Pont & Charlie Oberly
Guest Colmniists

Ben du Pont | PHOTO COURTESY OF DUPONT

Every resident of Delaware by now must know the lore. During the more than three decades when President Joe Biden represented our state in the Senate, he maintained a remarkable tradition. Rather than settle in D.C. for the work week after his election in 1972, he began riding Amtrak home every evening so that he was an everyday presence in his sons’ lives. As Beau and Hunter grew older, he maintained that ritual, which later included his wife Jill and their daughter Ashley. By maintaining his home life in Delaware, Joe never lost touch with how we Delawareans thought about politics, even as he climbed the ladder in Washington.

The sensibilities he must have encountered at the two end points of that daily journey would have been wildly different from one another. In Washington, the impulse it seems is always to steer the country toward ever more partisanship — for those working “inside the Beltway,” one party’s victory is the other party’s loss. But that’s not how residents of Delaware see it. We believe that Democrats and Republicans shouldn’t see one another as enemies so much as friends with different views of how to solve various problems. And so, our collective expectation is that our leaders will apply that bipartisan sensibility to their work. And that’s just what we saw from Sen. Biden during his decades representing us in Washington.

Charles Oberly | PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA

Now, as president, Delaware’s favorite son faces a critical decision. At a rare moment when Washington is on the cusp of solving a huge problem — namely the sorry state of our nation’s infrastructure — he will have to decide whether to stay true to his roots as a Blue Hen by insisting both Democrats and Republicans reach across the aisle, or else allow his administration to be sucked into the vortex of hyper-partisanship that has gripped Congress on issue upon issue. Now is a decisive moment.

Delaware has a great deal at stake. Our state has its fair share of dilapidated bridges. We’ve all been caught in the bumper-to-bumper traffic that lines summer routes to and from the shore. Anyone who has given it any thought realizes that we’re not particularly far from New York and D.C — people should be able to live here and work there — but Amtrak is too inexplicably slow for most anyone not named Joe Biden to endure the commute. So, the question today is whether Washington will finally get serious about solving these problems, or whether Congress will let itself get bogged down in the politics that has let China leapfrog America’s investment in the future.

The president’s great task at the moment is to lead Congress out of the morass. And remarkably enough, his choice largely comes down to the balance that he navigated so carefully as our senator. Will he do as certain ideologues and Washington insiders want, boxing Republicans out of the deliberations and doing what the Democrats want to do alone? Or will he remain true to his Delaware roots, demanding that his fellow Democrats reach out to bring Republicans into the process of shaping the bill?

Sen. Coons, Sen. Carper and Bill Flynn | PHOTO COURTESY SEN. COONS

While Sen. Tom Carper has yet to sign on, Sen. Chris Coons, who now occupies President Biden’s old Senate seat, has joined a group of 20 other senators, split between the two parties, who are offering to hammer out a bipartisan arrangement. The world waits and hopes the president will give them sufficient opportunity to forge a broad bipartisan consensus.

The choice President Biden makes will be momentous not only because it so aptly reflects the tension between Washington insiders and so much of the rest of the country. The choice also has the potential to define the remainder of his presidency. If the president cannot forge a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, a rare opportunity to build the sense of “unity” he promised in his inaugural address, and that we in Delaware saw him embrace so craftily during his career as our senator, will be lost. But if the president remains true to his roots in our state’s politics, he will have an opportunity to disrupt the vicious cycle of worsening political recrimination.

In other words, the infrastructure debate is President Biden’s opportunity to show that, however long he’s worked in Washington, he’s still the same man whom Delaware elected to the Senate in 1972. In failing to have bipartisan support of Republicans, he risks allowing the siren call of partisan recrimination to overwhelm the great promise of his inauguration. But if he embraces the spirit of bipartisan unity that we have always been so eager to see in politics, the president will have reclaimed the great promise of American democracy.

Ben du Pont is the co-founder of Chartline Capital Partners, while Charlie Oberly is a former Delaware attorney general and U.S. attorney.

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