WASHINGTON — President Biden is heading to Kentucky on Wednesday for a celebration of bipartisan achievement, even as House Republicans descend into a chaotic debate over who can best wage partisan warfare against his administration.
For Mr. Biden, the contrast is convenient.
The president will join Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, and an improbable mix of political rivals to highlight new funding for the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Covington, Ky., to Cincinnati. The appearance is an effort by the White House to begin 2023 by focusing voter attention on instances of bipartisan agreement during Mr. Biden’s first two years in office.
The bridge has been in desperate need of an upgrade for decades, a vivid symbol of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Led by Mr. Biden, lawmakers from both parties, including Mr. McConnell, voted last year to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the bridge and others like it in communities across the country.
“The American public has given us a charge to work together, to work in a bipartisan way to continue to build on what the president has been able to do the last two years,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday. “This is a president as senator, as vice president, who has worked across the aisle and has been successful,” she added later.
In spite of that recent history, few people in the White House or on Capitol Hill think there is much hope for significant new compromise in the coming two years. As of this week, Congress is once again officially divided, with Democrats still barely in control of the Senate and Republicans holding a new — but tiny — majority in the House.
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The House leadership spectacle on Tuesday underscored the reality of what that split in Washington has wrought. Representative Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed to win election as speaker thanks to a small group of about 20 conservative hard-liners who accuse him of being insufficiently aggressive in opposition to Mr. Biden’s presidency and his party’s agenda. The House adjourned on Tuesday afternoon after Mr. McCarthy lost three consecutive votes for the top job, the first time that has happened in a century.
Mr. McCarthy’s allies and detractors are set to resume their debate at just the moment Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell arrive in Kentucky on Wednesday for their display of bipartisan bridge-building. Govs. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, and Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, will be there. So will Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a Democrat, and former Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a Republican.
The event was planned before Tuesday’s Republican meltdown in the House. But Mr. Biden’s advisers said the appearance was an opportunity for the president, who says he intends to run for re-election, to underscore a theme he used in his successful 2020 bid: that he is determined to reach across the aisle, even if some Republicans, especially in the House, are unlikely to reciprocate.
White House officials declined to say whether Mr. Biden had personally talked to Mr. McConnell about attending Wednesday’s event. Ms. Jean-Pierre said only that “our team was consistently engaging with the bipartisan leadership” on Capitol Hill over the last several weeks as the trip was planned.
Aides to Mr. McConnell said there was little debate inside his office about whether to attend. The senator has been a longtime supporter of new money for the bridge, which has been a key priority for politicians from Kentucky and Ohio for decades.
Still, Mr. McConnell has opposed much of the president’s agenda, once promising supporters that he would be “100 percent focused” on preventing Mr. Biden from putting his desired policies in place. Mr. McConnell successfully helped block the president’s bigger, $2 trillion Build Back Better spending bill.
In response, Mr. Biden quipped at a news conference that the question to Mr. McConnell after his obstruction should be: “What’s he for?”
But the recent sniping between the veteran politicians understates their complicated relationship. Despite their political differences, the two men have hammered out compromises several times over the years, sometimes to the dismay of members of their own parties.
In 2011, when Mr. Biden was vice president, President Barack Obama turned to him to help cut a deal with Republicans on the budget and the debt ceiling to avert an economic catastrophe. It was Mr. McConnell who worked with Mr. Biden to sidestep disaster. They worked on a budget compromise again at the end of 2012.
Even if Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell can reach a similar deal again, it is unlikely that a Republican-controlled House, under Mr. McCarthy or someone else, will do the same.
But for the moment, White House officials are hoping that the bridge event, and other similar trips planned for the coming weeks, will send the message that Mr. Biden is trying. On Wednesday, other administration officials will travel to Chicago; New London, Conn.; and San Francisco to highlight other bridges that will be repaired with money from the bipartisan legislation.
The Brent Spence Bridge, a double-decker built nearly 60 years ago, has been a bottleneck in the region’s economy for years, frustrating commuters, hampering the delivery of economic goods and services, and threatening to become the site of the latest deadly infrastructure disaster.
The legislation will provide about $1.6 billion to renovate the bridge and construct a second crossing over the Ohio River. Political leaders in the area have tried for years to secure federal funding, to no avail. At a campaign rally in 2020, President Donald J. Trump vowed to get money for the bridge, though his promises for “infrastructure week” in America never materialized.
As recently as the end of 2021, the future of the bridge was uncertain as debate about the legislation continued to churn. But during an event in Kentucky, Mr. McConnell expressed optimism.
“This’ll be the first time I’ve come up here in a quarter of a century when I thought maybe there was a way forward on the Brent Spence Bridge,” he said at the time.
More than a year later, Mr. McConnell will return, standing next to Mr. Biden, to announce that the bridge will be fixed.