Biden kicks off rural investment tour in Minnesota

November 2, 2023

Madison McVan and Michelle Griffith

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — President Joe Biden began his speech about rural investments in a barn outside Northfield, Minnesota by addressing the war raging half a world away that has consumed American politics.

He called for humanitarian aid to Gaza and reiterated his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire as protesters demanded he do from a road near the farm.

“Israel has the right and responsibility to defend itself and its citizens from terror and it needs to do so in a manner that is consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of citizens,” Biden said.

Biden, standing in front of a crowd of about 200 people bundled up in coats and hats, then turned his attention to the topic that brought him to a family farm about 40 miles south of the Twin Cities: $5 billion in federal investments in rural America that his administration delivered.

“When rural America does well, when Indian Country does well, we all do well,” Biden said.

The national tour comes a year ahead of the 2024 presidential election, in which purplish Minnesota could play a significant role in the expected rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump.

That’s assuming U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat from the Minneapolis suburbs, doesn’t pull off a surprise, long-shot victory in the primary challenge to Biden he launched just days ago.

Phillips said he’s concerned Biden can’t defeat Trump again, but has drawn no support from leading Minnesota Democrats who have rallied behind Biden.

Gov. Tim Walz was Biden’s biggest cheerleader during the Wednesday event, leading the crowd in applause in between remarks.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Biden chose to kick off his rural tour in Minnesota because the state has embraced clean water policies and support for ethanol.

“It’s an opportunity for us to put a spotlight on what’s actually happening and how it’s making a difference for farm families across not just Minnesota but around the country,” said Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa.

Minnesota’s congressional delegation and Walz — first as a congressman and then as governor — have pushed for policies that would benefit the biofuels industry, even as economists and environmentalists question whether they are a useful tool in the effort to fight climate change.

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota’s 2nd District and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have both introduced legislation that would increase the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline nationwide.

The $5 billion number from the White House includes funds from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation.

More than $1 billion went to 81 large-scale conservation projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources received $25 million to provide financial assistance to farmers to reduce erosion and nutrient runoff. The Red River Basin Commission also received $20 million for similar efforts in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

An additional $600 million was distributed through the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, all of which pay farmers for conservation efforts.

The USDA Rural Partners Network spent $2 billion on rural infrastructure projects across the country. In Minnesota, five farms received grants to install solar arrays, and three farms got money for energy-efficient grain drying or handling systems.

The administration also touted another $1 billion in infrastructure investments through the Rural Development division of USDA and hundreds of millions of dollars to expand high-speed internet access and improve energy efficiency around the country.

In his speech, Biden also noted that his administration has devoted $1 billion to expanding small and medium-sized meat processing companies to combat consolidation in the meat industry.

Mike Peterson, a farmer in Northfield, said his concern about consolidation in agriculture brought him to Biden’s event and he’s ambivalent about political parties so long as they support farmers’ interests.

“I’m happy with any administration that will recognize the dynamics of the rural economy and how market consolidation can harm us or eliminate some opportunities,” Peterson said.

Biden’s economic policies are under threat from U.S. House Republicans, however, as they threaten a government shutdown unless the White House gives concessions, including rolling back planks of the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden, who already made a deal with House Republicans to curtail spending earlier this year, is unlikely to yield.

Ahead of Biden’s speech, Walz said he had one message for Congress after Republican infighting stalled the House of Representatives for several weeks, delaying negotiations over the farm bill, which is up for renewal every five years.

“You’ve got one job this time of year in rural America, after the harvest comes in: Give us a farm bill,” Walz said.

The 2018 Farm Bill expired at the end of September.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman David Hann criticized the president in a statement, saying “it could not be more obvious” that Biden’s visit was because of Phillip’s presidential run.

“Biden’s visit to Minnesota isn’t about repackaging his failed economic policies; it’s to shore up support with Democrats and block Phillip’s campaign from gaining strength,” Hann said. “It is becoming increasingly obvious that both Democrats and Republicans know that if the election were held today, Biden would lose.”

Multiple Minnesota Democrats showed their support for Biden by attending his speech, including House Majority Leader Jamie Long of Minneapolis, Senate President Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis and House Agriculture Committee chair Samantha Vang of Brooklyn Center.

At a fundraiser later Wednesday in Minneapolis, Biden was interrupted by a rabbi calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, MPR reported.

Biden reportedly replied, “I think we need a pause. A pause means give time to get the prisoners out … I’m the guy that convinced Bibi [Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu] to call for a ceasefire to let the prisoners out. I’m the guy that talked to [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] El-Sisi to convince him to open the door.”

Citing Jewish Voice for Peace, a nonprofit organization, MPR reported that it was Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg of Minneapolis who interrupted Biden’s speech demanding a ceasefire, and that Rosenberg is on the rabbinical council for the Jewish Voice for Peace.