CLEVELAND — Senator Rob Portman made several stops in and around Cleveland on Monday catching up with people he hasn't seen for some time because of the pandemic.
"It's the best part of the job," he said after a stop at the Cleveland Coast Guard station and before a tour of the Foundry along the Cuyahoga River and other projects in the Flats.
The visit to Cleveland is a nice break for the man who found himself at the center of the negotiations in Washington on a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. A package that seemed in jeopardy not long after being announced at the White House when President Joe Biden seemed to link it to a broader Democratic package with more funding for healthcare and education while increasing corporate taxes.
"It was a surprise to say the least that those two got linked," Portman said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Over the weekend the administration walked back those comments, despite pressure from Democrats who are insisting on both. Portman said on Monday that he'll take the president at his word, for if it was his stance, the deal would be dead.
“I can’t support that nor can any Republicans, but also some of the Democrats may not support it so we needed to de-link it and we’ve now done that. The president’s clarified his comments. We’re back,” he said.
Back with a focus on traditional infrastructure, Portman hopes to address things that in Northeast Ohio include "roads, bridges, things like transit in Cleveland, the potholes that you probably drove on this morning, our airports, our ports, broadband," Portman said. "So hard infrastructure assets are what we’re about, we got to move it forward.”
Roads and bridges are only as good as the foundation they’re built on, same with an infrastructure package like this. That’s why even though Portman is in Cleveland he’s working the phones back to Washington, keeping the Republicans on board still on board.
“I’ve been in touch with them this morning to let them know what’s going on to make sure they understand we’re back on track and we’re starting to work on subgroups trying to figure out as Republicans and Democrats exactly how do you do the broadband expansion," he said. "How do you deal with bridges? Which bridges are the highest priorities? I happen to think some in Ohio are a high priority as you can imagine but also we got to make sure this is done in a fair way.”
As for when this could get done, there's a small window between the Fourth of July break and the August recess.
"Well our hope is during the next two weeks we can get a lot of work done on fleshing it out and the details and then sometime in July we can have a vote but we'll see," Portman said. "It's going to depend on the Democrats in large measure because they're in charge of the House and the Senate and both the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been a little reluctant to mover this bill forward because they want a much bigger bill."