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Biden impatient behind the scenes as projects funded by his legislative accomplishments are slow to materialize

By MJ Lee and Kevin Liptak, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden has privately flashed impatience to his senior advisers as his White House struggles to change public opinion on his economic record ahead of the 2024 election, expressing deep frustration that he can’t show off physical construction of many projects that his signature legislative accomplishments will fund.

The president is said to have griped that even as he travels the country to tout historic pieces of legislation like the bipartisan infrastructure law, it could be years before the residents of some of the communities receiving federal funds see construction begin, according to three sources familiar with Biden’s comments to his top aides.

“There’s immense frustration in that, and he has vocalized that very clearly,” said one administration official.

All three sources told CNN that the president – who spent several decades in the Senate – is fully aware of the realities of implementing large laws, including how much time it can take for federal funding to become tangible structures like bridges and railroads. Still, Biden has made clear to his advisers the importance of being able to showcase physical examples of what those laws will help create across the country.

“He wants this stuff now,” is how one close ally of the White House put it simply.

To better take credit for the still-in-development projects, the White House over the summer began placing signage on the sites of future improvements made possible by the infrastructure law. The administration has announced some $400 billion for 40,000 infrastructure projects so far, according to the White House, and hundreds of thousands of signs will eventually be erected around the country with the message: “Project Funded by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” Biden himself has attended numerous ribbon-cutting ceremonies across the country.

But even as the White House highlights Biden’s legislative record and a series of strong economic indicators – including slowing inflation, record-low unemployment, a robust labor market, improving consumer confidence and a spike in housing starts – public polling continues to show stubborn pessimism about the economy. With economic and financial issues far and away the most important concern for most voters, a CNN poll this month showed that seven in 10 Americans rate the country’s economic conditions as poor.

Biden will again take his economic message on the road Wednesday, traveling to the key battleground state of Wisconsin, where he’ll speak at the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce to tout what the White House is calling “a Black small business boom.”

Both the Biden White House and campaign have made clear that successfully touting the president’s first-term accomplishments – such as signing into law a massive infrastructure deal, a bill to boost US investments in chip manufacturing, as well as a major package focused on the climate and health care – will be key to convincing voters that the economy has made a dramatic turnaround under Biden’s watch.

The White House has also highlighted the administration’s work to lower everyday costs across the board, including on prescription drugs and by slashing so-called junk fees.

But to the great concern of many Democrats, most voters appear far from convinced at this point.

The dim economic outlook could spell trouble for Biden in key battleground states: A New York Times/Sienna College poll of voters in six battleground states showed that 62% of voters think the economy is only “fair” or “poor.” In a hypothetical matchup against former President Donald Trump, voters – by a 59% to 37% margin – indicated that they trusted the former Republican president more than Biden on the economy.

Senior Biden officials say they fully recognize the disconnect between the robust economic recovery and the grim public outlook on the issue. In private, there has been acknowledgement inside the White House that the decision to label their economic agenda as “Bidenomics” was risky – a word that invites tribalism because of the sheer fact that it has the president’s name in it.

But they also maintain that there is still ample time for public sentiment to improve before next November, particularly if they can successfully drive home the substance behind what “Bidenomics” is meant to represent – and if inflation continues to slow and wages keep growing.

And despite some internal concerns about the effectiveness of the phrase, Biden continues to use it in speeches. He posted a photo on Instagram this week in front of a white board with a three-point explanation of what “Bidenomics” means.

“Quickly and effectively” implementing the bills that Biden has signed into law is a top priority for the president, a White House spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN.

“He constantly pushes his team to ensure we are moving as quickly as possible, and that approach has led to historic results: Creating a record number of good-paying construction and manufacturing jobs, rebuilding our roads and bridges, and lowering costs for prescription drugs,” the spokesperson said. “He has highlighted this progress across the country – visiting projects like the Brent Spence Bridge in Kentucky and the Hudson River Tunnel in New York – and his administration helped rebuild the I-95 in Philadelphia and the I-10 in Los Angeles in record time.”

Biden’s top economic advisers acknowledge that shifting the public outlook on the economy won’t happen overnight. The deeply jarring experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, which left record-high prices across the board in its wake, is still fresh on people’s minds, one senior White House official told CNN, and there are few solutions better for remedying that than the passage of time.

White House officials also see rising wages compared to inflation as a positive sign, but say Americans need more time to mentally process those benefits.

And whether the 10-plus months that are left until next year’s November election are enough for Biden’s team to fully reap the political rewards of his economic record remains to be seen.

Speaking in Las Vegas last week, the challenges of promoting projects that won’t be finished for years was evident. Biden was in town promoting billions of dollars in new passenger rail investments, including a high-speed line between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

But the project will take years to build; instead of a new train station, he spoke from a local union hall for carpenters, hoping to highlight that organized labor would be called upon to build the rail line.

In his speech, Biden sought to contrast his own record with that of his predecessor and most likely 2024 rival, saying: “Trump just talks the talk, we walk the walk” when it comes to new infrastructure.

Still, it will be years before anyone is taking the high-speed train to Las Vegas, the president acknowledged. Biden said the project was on track to be completed in time for the California-hosted 2028 Summer Olympics – almost at the end of his second term, if he’s elected to one.

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