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Biden makes his economic case in deep-red South Carolina, says his policies add jobs in GOP states

President Joe Biden speaks about his economic agenda at Flex LTD, Thursday, July 6, 2023, in West Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP
President Joe Biden speaks about his economic agenda at Flex LTD, Thursday, July 6, 2023, in West Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Making his case for 2024, President Joe Biden declared in deep-red South Carolina on Thursday that Republican-led states are gaining factory jobs because of economic measures he pushed through Congress despite stiff GOP opposition.

In a nod toward next year's elections, Biden argued that government investments in computer chips, batteries and electric vehicles will help the U.S. out-compete China and that his agenda has delivered in ways that former President Donald Trump could not.

“I didn't get much help from the other team, but that didn't stop us from getting it done,” the president said, speaking in a state that he lost by nearly 12 percentage points in 2020. “Every Republican member of Congress voted against the Inflation Reduction Act.”

White House officials maintain that if Republicans had their way, South Carolina, like many other Republican-controlled states, would have lost out on billions of dollars in investments and thousands of jobs.

However, GOP lawmakers counter that Biden’s initiatives have fueled higher inflation and thus have left people worse off.

Biden's visit showcased a new clean energy manufacturing partnership between solar firm Enphase Energy and manufacturer Flex Ltd. that is projected to create 600 jobs in the state and 1,200 more throughout the country. Enphase, which is making a $60 million investment to open six new manufacturing lines, including two in South Carolina, is benefitting from tax incentives included in Biden's Inflation Reduction Act that passed last August.

The trip also showed an increasing partnership between the administration and technology companies. These relationships complicate GOP criticism that Democratic policies have hurt businesses, as some corporate leaders say that White House initiatives are helping them.

But the Biden administration also faces a balancing act as it simultaneously talks up union labor at projects and other initiatives that some companies say could drive up costs.

Enphase President and CEO Badri Kothandaraman thanked Biden for signing into law last year's legislation, which he said “provides incentives for domestic manufacturing of energy products that not only increase the overall supply and demand in the U.S. but also accelerated domestic production to cater to that increased demand.”

The White House has repeatedly castigated Republicans for voting against the legislation and for efforts to claw back tax incentives it contained, arguing that the efforts would hurt their own constituents.

“I made a commitment that I’d be president for all Americans,” Biden said. “I’ve kept my promise. In fact, some analyses have said that laws I’ve signed are going to do more to help red America than blue America. That’s OK with me, because we’re all Americans.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office initially estimated that the law would reduce deficits by $238 billion over 10 years. It contains about $400 billion worth of spending and tax incentives related to clean energy and the environment, but the popularity of the climate-related tax breaks suggests that spending will be higher than initially forecast and possibly reduce the estimated deficit savings.

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, who represents an area that will benefit from Enphase's new investment, took to Twitter after the law was approved on a party-line vote to say it passed to “the detriment of American families,” calling it a “waste” of money. Wilson also voted in April to overturn the clean energy tax credits in the legislation that incentivized the Enphase investment.

The White House also took note of another South Carolina Republican, Rep. Nancy Mace, who congratulated the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority for winning nearly $26 million to build and repair clean energy transportation projects under the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation. She voted against the bill.

Sen. Tim Scott, who is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, also voted against the infrastructure bill, saying it included “reckless spending on unrelated pet projects.”

In a Thursday interview with Fox News, the South Carolina senator said that Biden has triggered higher gasoline, food and utilities prices as overall inflation has largely outpaced wage growth.

"We’ve done better, we can do better," Scott said.

The visit to South Carolina — a state that hasn’t supported a Democrat in a general presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — comes less than a week after Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, visited the small town of Pickens for a rally that drew tens of thousands of people.

Biden criticized Trump as a policy lightweight whose multiple declarations of an “infrastructure week” never produced the promised investments, while Biden steered a bipartisan deal on infrastructure through Congress.

But for all his optimism, Biden has seen his public approval rating — and public sentiment about his handling of the economy — dragged down by stubborn inflation that hit a 40-year high last summer.

Still, White House officials are embracing ownership of the economy, arguing that legislative action during the first two years of the Democratic administration has kept the economy strong in the face of headwinds caused by the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic. Biden also argues that his legislative wins have set the scene for further growth if voters give him four more years and that he's committed to work with areas that oppose him politically.

South Carolina, which has a low 3.1% unemployment rate, has seen $11 billion in new investment in manufacturing and clean energy since the start of the Biden administration, according to a White House tally.

South Carolina has only a single Democrat — Rep. Jim Clyburn — in its congressional delegation and has had no Democrats in statewide elected office in more than a decade.

But the state has long been a place of personal and political importance to Biden. Kiawah Island, near Charleston, has been the site of family vacations, as well as decision-making in the run-up to his presidential campaigns.

South Carolina Democrats also gave a pivotal win to then-candidate Biden’s 2020 effort. An endorsement from Clyburn, then the highest-ranking Black member of the House, helped boost Biden to a decisive primary win that revived a flagging campaign and built momentum that propelled him through a series of Super Tuesday wins.