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Black leaders applaud Biden’s infrastructure signing, but make clear there’s more work to be done

EXCLUSIVE: As President Joe Biden wins major victory in his legislative agenda, lawmakers and civil rights activists say social infrastructure and voting rights must now take center stage in Washington.

President Joe Biden has a major victory under his belt after he signed into law the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.   

Reverend Al Sharpton attended the White House signing ceremony on a cold Monday afternoon located on the South Lawn, where theGrio was also in attendance. After the event, Sharpton told theGrio that this moment is “important and it is a deposit on the first part” of President Biden’s physical and human infrastructure legislative agenda.

U.S. President Joe Biden (3rd-R) talks to Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (2nd-R) as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (R) and Vice President Kamala Harris (L) look on after signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as he is surrounded by lawmakers and members of his Cabinet during a ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But the civil rights activist also emphasized that “we are not paid in full until” Biden and Democrats are able to pass critical voting rights legislation. As for the infrastructure bill that was just passed into law, Sharpton noted that there is a need to “make sure some of these contracts go to Black communities.” He added, “broadband is good but we need to keep going further.”

Taking the stage at the signing ceremony before President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris said there is indeed more to come from the Biden-Harris administration. Clad in her staple pant suit, Vice President Harris said “this bill is one of two,” the second half of the bill being the social infrastructure component to include extended tax credits for children, significant climate investment, among other things, is expected to be voted on in Congress at the end of the week or sometime next week.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who also spoke at the White House signing ceremony, drew some laughs from the audience as he quoted Biden’s now famous statement when speaking to former President Barack Obama at another historic event — the passing of the Affordable Care Act. The infrastructure bill, Schumer said on Monday, was a “big F-ing deal” as it is about J-O-B-S. 

.@SenSchumer: “We told American families that we’d meet the challenges of our time with boldness and with courage. Now they’re getting one of the largest infrastructure bills ever. To paraphrase one of my favorite former vice presidents, it’s a big effing deal.” pic.twitter.com/lkNzcT3QuX

— The Hill (@thehill) November 15, 2021

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is tasked as the Implementation Coordinator for this new law. President Biden said Landrieu will make sure the federal dollars are dispersed as expected in the structure laid out for each line item in the bill from roads, to lead pipe removal to money for Amtrak to fix dilapidated infrastructure.  

President Biden will begin his victory lap on Tuesday as he travels with Landrieu to New Hampshire and the site of a “broken down bridge,” according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. The presidential spokesperson said it is all “in efforts to help people understand how the infrastructure bill will impact their lives.”

Ultimately, Psaki said, President Biden and Vice President Harris will be crisscrossing America to educate the nation on the infrastructure law and how Americans stand to benefit from its investments.

U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, who was in the audience at Monday’s ceremony, told theGrio “this is physical infrastructure, which is something North Carolina needs desperately.” He said at the top of the list of necessary investments is rural broadband followed by roads and bridges. The congressman also vowed that next up on the agenda for him and his Democratic colleagues is passing the second arm of Biden’s infrastructure agenda in the Build Back Better Act.

The signing event drew a swarm of recognizable faces and names like U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and U.S. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah along with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Congressional Black Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, U.S. Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida along with a contingent of Republican and Democratic members of Congress, Republican and Democratic governors, civil rights leaders, union leaders, clergy  and others who traveled for this moment. 

However, there were some dark clouds hovering over Monday’s signing with President Biden’s recent approval rating at its lowest levels. In response to Biden’s approval rating, Press Secretary Psaki said, “this is an opportunity” amid COVID fatigue for the administration to get to work and to help Americans on various domestic issues. 

The other cloud is the news report from CNN detailing an alleged rift between the White House and Vice President Harris’s office. The story even raised questions as to Harris’s viability as Biden’s running mate if he decides to seek reelection in 2024

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris hugs President Joe Biden as he prepares to deliver remarks during the signing ceremony for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on the South Lawn at the White House on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democratic strategist and former DNC Chair Donna Brazile told theGrio, “As long as the president of the United States has her back, Kamala will overcome all of the disdain from the right-wing media and the contempt inside the beltway press.” 

Brazile said that the most important role in American politics, or as she described the “backup quarterback,” is to understand the job of the president and to ensure she doesn’t drop the ball when it’s her chance to do the same. “Vice President Harris will rise. That’s simply what women must do,” Brazile added.

“Can they do better? Of course. That is why we are out here protesting everyday,” said Melanie Campbell of the Black Women’s Roundtable in response to public criticisms over the job performance of both Biden and Harris. Campbell will be marching Tuesday from the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women to the U.S. Capitol building to push for passage of voting rights legislation.

“[It] has to get done and it needs to get done,” said Campbell, who has the ear of both President Biden and Vice President Harris. “The administration needs to get the filibuster reform done so they can pass legislation that is important to all of us.”

Campbell was also in attendance at the bill signing. She and Rev. Sharpton are of one mind on voting rights and this administration. Sharpton contends, ”I think we had to be here to insist that we also move forward on the voting rights bill. In the great spirit of bipartisanship I hope they also include the John Lewis [Voting Rights] Advancement bill.”

Leaning in on reports of a divided Biden-Harris administration, Campbell told theGrio, “I think that this administration is one administration. The success or failure of it is one administration, it is not two administrations. That administration as one team will be successful or won’t be successful.”

“Rev. Al and I think we had to be here to insist that we also move forward on the voting rights bill,” Campbell explained.

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