Thank Boehner, McConnell for Obama's visit

Sep 22, 2011

The fact that the Brent Spence Bridge sits squarely between the home states of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is not just a coincidence -- it's the reason for the president's visit on Thursday, a White House spokesman said. "It says a lot that the bridge that would connect the states of two such powerful leaders would be considered functionally obsolete," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told the Enquirer in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

"The president believes that we need to pass the American Jobs Act as soon as possible and in a divided government, the only way to do that is for Republicans to be willing to work with Democrats," Pfeiffer said, singling out Boehner and McConnell, who he said are "critical to getting something done here."

Pfeiffer's comments come after the White House initially played down the notion that Cincinnati's bridge was picked for extra attention because it sits between the home states of McConnell and Boehner.

President Barack Obama referred to Cincinnati's aging and overused bridge in his jobs speech before a joint session of Congress two weeks ago. On Thursday, he'll visit the city to speak at Hilltop Ready Mixed Concrete, a facility on the Ohio riverfront just south of the Bengals' training field that is within view of the bridge.

Pfeiffer said Cincinnati's bridge was one of many examples the White House considered to highlight the broader point the president wanted to make about critical infrastructure projects and creating jobs, but it stood out because of its location.

"This was on a long list, but it was notable because it connects that Ohio and Kentucky," Pfeiffer said. "We are going to the place that connects these two states of these two leaders and we're going to talk about the American Jobs Act and what it would do for the country but also for those two states."

For example, there are schools, roads and bridges all across Ohio and Kentucky that unemployed construction workers could be working on right now if the president's jobs bill is enacted, Pfeiffer said.

"In order to do any of those things, we have to pass the bill. And we're not going to be able to pass the bill if the speaker of the House and the Republican leader in the Senate aren't willing to work with the president and their Democratic colleagues to get things done," he said. "The only thing that can stop it is politics and our hope is that everyone is willing to put country before party to get something done."

When the trip was first announced last week, White House spokesman Jay Carney dodged questions at a news conference that the bridge was picked because of its proximity to Boehner's and McConnell's constituents.

"It's a good way to highlight the urgent need. When you have a bridge that's described as 'functionally obsolete,' it's pretty clear that this bridge could benefit from a little repair and renovation. So I think that bridge because I think it helps highlight the urgent need in this country for us to improve our infrastructure," Carney said at the time.

Meanwhile, McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said Republicans can work with the administration to accomplish their shared goal of creating jobs, but McConnell opposes the "job-killing tax hikes and extraneous stimulus spending" contained in the president's jobs bill.

"Kentuckians hope that this visit really is about finally making this project a priority for the administration and not simply the political stunt that the White House staffer suggested it would be," he said.

Asked about the bridge being chosen because it's in Boehner's back yard, spokeswoman Brittany Bramell said, "Congressman Boehner believes that the Brent Spence Bridge is of vital importance to the state and regional economies. He is pleased the president is providing national attention to its importance."