WASHINGTON, D.C. — Marty Walsh remembers what it was like when a Cabinet secretary would come to town.
“It really is a big deal. They give you the dates, and you just clear your schedule,” said Walsh, a former mayor of Boston.
He recalls 300 people packing into a room to hear Julián Castro, then Housing and Urban Development secretary. “He was speaking on behalf of President Obama and Vice President Biden, and people hung on every word.”
Now Walsh, as secretary of labor, is on the other side of the equation, crisscrossing the country on behalf of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan. As the massive infrastructure package goes through negotiations in Congress, Walsh and a handful of other Cabinet secretaries have launched an ambitious travel schedule to promote the plan and the larger Biden agenda.
Starting around the beginning of May, Biden’s Cabinet members have made dozens of TV appearances and trips around the country, promoting the Biden agenda.
“I don’t know that I can think of an equivalent to this kind of rollout,” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, who in recent weeks has traveled to Newark, New Jersey; Kansas City, Missouri; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. “We are an extension of the administration. We are carrying the president’s agenda.”
Last week, Biden called off negotiations with a group of Republican senators and announced he would be formulating a new approach. The bill is Biden’s top legislative priority and its fate could prove critical to his ability to maintain momentum early in his administration. Biden’s ability to deliver on his proposals is being closely watched by both Republicans and the Democrats’ own restless far-left progressive wing.
Much of the traveling has been done by Biden’s so-called Jobs Cabinet: Walsh, Fudge, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
Buttigieg, who said he was “itching to get on the road since Day One,” said the presence of a Cabinet secretary brings particular gravitas. More than perhaps any position in government, he said, Cabinet secretaries are a direct extension of the president and his policies.
“You represent the administration and the president, writ large,” said Buttigieg, who has traveled to North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. “It’s a way to let people know that they’re important.”
Anita Dunn, senior adviser to Biden, said the Cabinet members had largely been confined to long-distance television interviews for the first few months of the administration.
“It’s all been virtual until quite recently,” she said.
Dunn described the Cabinet members as “accomplished people who represent the administration and allow us to increase our reach.”
Granholm, speaking on the phone during a visit to West Virginia, said her primary goal on that trip was to reassure citizens of the coal mining-dependent state that Biden’s clean energy plans won’t destroy their economy. A former governor of Michigan, Granholm compared West Virginia to her home state when the auto industry started contracting.
“I get that fear and nervousness when a state’s whole identity and economy is wrapped around a sector that’s shrinking. I get when a community has been on its knees,” she said.
Her presence in West Virginia “means that the president of the United States deeply cares,” Granholm said.