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Biden hits Illinois — touts pre-school, Pell Grants, productivity in push for American Families Plan

In a visit of a little over three hours, Biden waded into far northwest suburban “Trump Country” — an area won by his Republican predecessor but represented by Democrats in Congress.

President Joe Biden speaks at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden speaks at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Vowing “to truly deal everybody in this time,” President Joe Biden on Wednesday used his first visit to Illinois since winning the White House to argue for the need to pass a package of proposals focused on education and child care.

“To truly win the 21st century — and once again lead the world — to truly build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, to truly deal everybody in this time, we need to invest in our people,” Biden said.

In a visit of a little over three hours, Biden waded into far northwest suburban “Trump Country” — an area won by his Republican predecessor but represented by Democrats in Congress. The president promoted Pell Grants and pre-school, met with local college students, was greeted by friendly Democrats and razzed by Republican demonstrators.

Absent from his public remarks was any mention of the Chicago police officer and two federal agents shot on the Southwest Side hours before he landed at O’Hare Airport.

But in a written statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a meeting on the tarmac with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, “President Biden expressed his personal support for the two ATF officials and the Chicago police officer who were shot earlier today” and “reiterated his commitment to working” with her and others in Chicago to combat gun violence.

President Joe Biden greets Mayor Lori Lightfoot as he disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden greets Mayor Lori Lightfoot as he disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday.
Saul Loeb/AFP a través de Getty

Biden also chatted with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on the airport tarmac.

In suburban Crystal Lake, a bevy of Illinois Democrats — including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood — were also on hand to greet Biden at McHenry County College, the community college where the president promoted his American Families Plan.

Also turning out were about 100 supporters of former President Donald Trump, gathered along a main road leading to the college to remind the Democrat he was still in “MAGA Country.” The former president carried McHenry County in 2020.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump rally outside McHenry County College on Wednesday.
Supporters of former President Donald Trump rally outside McHenry County College on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Demonstrators waved flags bearing those words, as well as “Trump Country” and “Make America Proud Again” to cheers and honks from onlookers and passersby.

“Fight for your country!” one woman yelled over cheers from other Trump supporters.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump rally outside McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.
Supporters of former President Donald Trump rally outside McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Biden came to the community college to promote part of his “Build Back Better” agenda, which includes increasing Pell Grants, offering free community college for first-time students and workers wanting to earn a degree or other credentials and investments in the Registered Apprenticeship program and other pre-apprenticeship programs.

Biden’s proposal also includes ensuring all 3- and 4-year-olds have access to free preschool, an increase in the child tax credit and providing community colleges with funds to support “wraparound supports,” such as child care.

Biden also met with students who are in a manufacturing program at the college and others in the college’s children’s learning center, where he touted the proposed changes the country could make to child care.

“All the data shows — if you’re able to take your child to work ... you get increased productivity for the parent. ... It really makes a ... difference in terms of generating economic growth as well,” the president said. “It’s a win-win.”

President Joe Biden speaks at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden speaks at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Getting the package of proposals passed will likely be a challenge.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Biden and his fellow Democrats are in for “a hell of a fight” over the passage of the plan.

Biden brushed off a question about the Republican’s statement while in the children’s learning center, saying the Senate minority leader “loves our programs” and has bragged about them back home in Kentucky.

Biden stumped for the child care and education portions of his proposal, as well as the need to invest in jobs and clean energy, which is addressed through his American Jobs Plan.

Three decades ago, the nation was No. 1 in the world for the share of its GDP that it invested in research and development, but now ranks No. 8, Biden said.

“Folks, Democrats and Republicans agree — we can’t afford to lose this race,” Biden said.