By Aamer Madhani and Meg Kinnard
President Joe Biden is heading to South Carolina on Thursday to make the case that economic measures he pushed through Congress despite stiff Republican opposition are helping to keep the deep red state — and others that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 — humming.
Ahead of Biden's visit to a state that he lost by nearly 12 percentage points in 2020, White House officials argued that if Republicans had their way, South Carolina, like many other Republican-controlled states, would have lost out on billions of dollars in investments and thousands of jobs.
Biden will use his visit to showcase a new clean energy manufacturing partnership between solar firm Enphase Energy and manufacturer Flex Ltd. that is projected to create 600 jobs in the state and 1,200 more throughout the country.
Enphase, which is making a $60 million investment to open up six new manufacturing lines, including two in South Carolina, is benefitting from tax incentives included in Biden's $370 billion Inflation Reduction Act that passed last August.
The White House on Wednesday castigated Republicans for voting against the legislation and subsequent efforts to claw back tax incentives included in the bill.
“Republicans in Congress, including every Republican representative from South Carolina, want to threaten these investments, jobs and economic opportunities by repealing — repealing the Inflation Reduction Act, which actually helps the American people,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “But as the president said in his first inauguration, he’s the president for all Americans. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a red state or a blue state."
Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, who represents an area that will benefit from Enphase's new investment, took to Twitter after the law was approved on a party-line vote to say it passed to “the detriment of American families,” calling it a “waste” of money. Wilson also voted in April to overturn the clean energy tax credits in the legislation that incentivized the Enphase investment.
The White House also took note of another South Carolina Republican, Rep. Nancy Mace, congratulating the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority for winning nearly $26 million to build and repair clean energy transportation projects under the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation. She voted against the bill.
Sen. Tim Scott, who is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, also voted against the infrastructure bill, saying it included “reckless spending on unrelated pet projects.”
The visit to South Carolina — a state that hasn’t supported a Democrat in a general presidential election since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 win — comes less than a week after Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, visited the small town of Pickens for a rally that drew tens of thousands of people.
“By showing up in a red state and making the case for how even those who aren't going to vote for him have benefitted from his policies, Biden is starting to make clear the real choice for that small universe of swing voters," said Josh Freed, who heads the climate and energy program at the center-left group Third Way.
The White House is making a big push to show progress under “Bidenomics” as soaring inflation eases, unemployment remains near historic lows and Biden's battle for reelection heats up.
Biden has seen his public approval rating — and public sentiment about his handling of the economy — dragged down by stubborn inflation that hit a 40-year high last summer.
“What is 'Bidenomics'? It is the inflationary Washington spending, costly regulations, and regressive taxes touted by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, wrote in a memo on Wednesday. “These policies are making everyday essentials more expensive, hollowing out family savings and driving interest rates higher.”
Still, White House officials are embracing ownership of the economy, arguing that legislative action during the first two years of the Democratic administration has kept the economy strong in the face of headwinds caused by the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic. Biden also argues his legislative wins have set the scene for further growth if voters give him four more years.
Private companies have committed more than $500 billion in investment in manufacturing throughout the country since Biden took office. South Carolina, which has a 3.1% unemployment rate, has seen $11 billion in new investment in manufacturing and clean energy since the start of the Biden administration, according to a White House tally.
South Carolina has only a single Democrat — Rep. Jim Clyburn — in its congressional delegation and no Democrats in statewide-elected office in more than a decade.
But the state has long been a place of personal and political importance to Biden: Kiawah Island, near Charleston, has been the site of family vacations, as well as decision-making in the run-up to his presidential campaigns.
South Carolina Democrats also gave a pivotal win to then-candidate Biden’s struggling 2020 effort. An endorsement from Clyburn, then the highest-ranking Black member of the House, helped boost Biden to a decisive primary win that revived a flagging campaign and build the momentum that propelled him through a series of Super Tuesday wins.
The party’s national prominence has risen — most recently when the Democratic National Committee made South Carolina the first voting state on its 2024 presidential primary calendar.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Christale Spain said that Biden, by making his pitch in the state, is making good on his pledge to be a president for all Americans, not just those who supported his campaign.
“The president has always made South Carolina a priority, and we’re here to support him and we’re excited about mobilizing voters for his reelection,” Spain said during a conference call with reporters.
Kinnard reported from Columbia, S.C.