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Biden heads west for a policy victory lap, drawing an implicit contrast with Trump

KEYT

By CHRIS MEGERIAN
Associated Press

TUSAYAN, Ariz. (AP) — President Joe Biden set out Monday on a Western swing aimed at showcasing his work on conservation, clean energy and veterans’ benefits as he seeks to draw an implicit contrast between his administration’s accomplishments and former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles.

Biden’s first stop will be the Grand Canyon area, where on Tuesday he will announce a new national monument to preserve about 1,562 square miles (4,046 square kilometers) around Grand Canyon National Park and limit uranium mining, White House officials said.

Climate adviser Ali Zaidi told reporters accompanying Biden aboard Air Force One on Monday that the president will designate his fifth national monument during the stop in northern Arizona. He said a dozen tribes had “stepped up” and asked for the monument.

After Arizona, Biden will travel to New Mexico and Utah.

The Democratic president will be in Albuquerque on Wednesday and will talk about how fighting climate change has created new jobs, and he’ll visit Salt Lake City on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the PACT Act, which provides new benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic substances. He’ll also hold a reelection fundraiser in each city.

Biden will use the three-night trip to “continue to highlight the progress he’s making across his agenda,” particularly when it comes to climate change, said Natalie Quillian, the White House deputy chief of staff.

“You can expect to us to highlight more groundbreakings of projects, more ribbon cuttings and opportunities to show the American people how these investments and jobs are reaching their communities and their neighborhoods,” she said.

The White House has been pushing to demonstrate the impact of Biden’s policies, hoping to harness lower inflation numbers and strong employment figures to alleviate the president’s sagging poll numbers.

Biden is fresh from more than a week of vacation at his homes in Rehoboth Beach and Wilmington, Delaware. On the day that Trump faced a new indictment for attempting to overturn his 2020 election loss, Biden went to a fish restaurant with first lady Jill Biden, saw the movie “Oppenheimer” and took a moonlit walk across the beach.

He hasn’t commented about the charges against his Republican predecessor, maintaining the same strategic silence he did regarding the previous two indictments.

The criminal charges appear to have done little to dampen Republican voters’ enthusiasm for Trump, who remains the leading candidate for his party’s 2024 nomination for president. The situation has also provided a challenge and an opportunity for Biden.

The legal dramas have drawn attention away from the White House, making it harder for Biden to generate public attention for his accomplishments. But it’s also created a suitable backdrop for Biden’s promise to break with years of Trump-fueled chaos and focus on governing.

Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said Trump’s legal trouble “sucks the oxygen out of everything else” and limits the chances for Republicans to discuss other issues, such as the economy.

“People like to say nothing matters anymore,” she said. “But the conversation that you’re not having actually does matter.”

Biden’s trip will traverse a varied political landscape.

Arizona is a key battleground state that Biden won narrowly in 2020, making him the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1996 to carry the state. Arizona also is one of a handful of genuinely competitive states heading into next year’s election, making it critical to Biden’s reelection bid.

New Mexico is considered safe for Democrats. Utah is a Republican stronghold whose governor, Spencer Cox, has stressed finding common ground across party lines.

It’s also a critical region for conversations about climate change. Phoenix saw 31 days in a row of temperatures at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.4 degrees Celsius).

Biden’s senior adviser on clean energy, John Podesta, said the president would talk about “the investments that we need to ensure that we are building a resilient society going forward in the face of what is becoming a challenging situation.”

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed without evidence that he’s being targeted by Democrats trying to keep him from reclaiming the White House.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of President Joe Biden at https://apnews.com/hub/joe-biden.

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