Fresh from the farm: Biden seeks to unite electricians in Chicago and farmers in Kankakee behind him — and against Putin

In Kankakee, Biden sought to focus farmers’ anger on Russian President Vladimir Putin and “Putin’s war.” In Chicago, an animated Biden detailed his infrastructure plan’s creation of jobs at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ International Convention.

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President Joe Biden, center, listens to farm owners Jeff and Gina O’Connor, first and second from left, during a tour of OC Farm in Kankakee on Wednesday. Also attending were Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly.

President Joe Biden, center, listens to farm owners Jeff and Gina O’Connor, first and second from left, during a tour of OC Farm in Kankakee on Wednesday. Also attending were Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

President Joe Biden praised American farmers as “the breadbasket of democracy” and union workers for “building the middle class” Wednesday during a daylong trip to Illinois that stretched from rural Kankakee County to downtown Chicago.

It was part of an effort to drum up support for his administration’s efforts to tackle rising inflation and to tout the work he’s already done for the middle class. The president also helped round up big dollars for Democrats at a private fundraiser in Chicago.

In Kankakee, Biden sought to focus farmers’ anger on Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguing that “Putin’s war” is the source of many of their troubles.

In Chicago, an animated Biden — the president mostly walking around with a mic instead of standing still behind a podium — detailed his infrastructure plan’s creation of jobs for union workers at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ International Convention.

He also urged Congress to pass the PRO Act — aimed at protecting the rights of workers to organize, emphasizing the muscle of organized labor in the country.

“You literally built this country,” Biden told the union members. “If you all went on strike nationwide, the country would shut down.”

The president, who has been heavily leaning on unions to help reinvigorate support in his presidency, said he wouldn’t have won the election without organized labor.

“You’re the reason I’m standing here today as president,” he said to applause.

President Joe Biden speaks at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ 40th International Convention at McCormick Place, Wednesday, May 11, 2022.

President Joe Biden speaks at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ 40th International Convention at McCormick Place, Wednesday, May 11, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

IBEW president Lonnie Stephenson called Biden, the first president to speak at the union’s convention, “the most pro-union president in American history.” He lauded Biden for his continued efforts to support unions, saying “union isn’t a word that he’s ever afraid of using.”

“He has our back, and we have his,” Stephenson said.

Biden’s third presidential visit to Illinois came just hours after the release of April inflation numbers, which showed the rate changed minimally between March and April, a potential sign that a growth in costs may subside sooner than later.

The president capped his trip at a fundraiser with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to raise campaign cash for the Democratic National Committee in advance of the midterm elections.

Riding to the IBEW convention in the president’s motorcade, Pritzker spoke with Biden about Illinois’ efforts to become an early presidential primary state — and Chicago’s bid for the 2024 Democratic National Convention. Pritzker also spoke with the president about his efforts to continue to protect abortion rights in the state, according to a Pritzker spokesperson.

Earlier, about a dozen protesters waving flags in support of former President Donald Trump lined a two-lane county highway en route to OC Farms in unincorporated Kankakee County, where Biden made his first stop Wednesday. About 57% of voters in the mostly rural county 60 miles south of Chicago voted for Trump in 2020.

One of the protesters held a sign declaring “Farming costs more under Biden.” The president acknowledged as much during a 15-minute speech alongside farmer Jeff O’Connor, but he pointed the finger squarely at Putin and his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“Right now, America is fighting on two fronts. At home, it’s inflation and rising prices. Abroad, it’s helping Ukrainians defend their democracy and feeding those who are left hungry around the world because Russian atrocities exist,” Biden said. “And Jeff and the American farmers understand Putin’s war has … cut off critical sources of food.”

President Joe Biden speaks with OC Farm owners Jeff and Gina O’Connor.

President Joe Biden speaks with OC Farm owners Jeff and Gina O’Connor during a tour of OC Farm in Kankakee on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Russia and Ukraine combine to produce more than a quarter of the world’s fertilizer, with the war sending prices for the vital farming commodity through the roof. Ukraine also provides grain and wheat for numerous countries.

Biden tried to connect the supply chain links to a few dozen supporters inside a warehouse at O’Connor’s farm, in an effort to illustrate how Putin’s actions could cause mass starvation overseas — and how farmers in Illinois and beyond will help close the looming food gap.

“An awful lot of people in Africa are going to starve to death because they [Ukraine] are the sole, sole supplier,” Biden said, switching between prepared and off-the-cuff remarks inside the stiflingly hot warehouse. “Putin has warships bouncing around, preventing access to the Ukrainian ports to get this grain out, to get this wheat out.”

He also noted the cold, wet spring weather — that preceded his sweltering Wednesday visit — that has put Midwest farmers “behind the eight-ball.”

Before speaking for about 15 minutes, Biden, with rolled-up sleeves and aviator sunglasses, briefly toured the farm with Jeff and Gina O’Connor, alongside U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Biden touted White House efforts that he says will help OC Farm — a sixth-generation family farm that produces soybeans, corn and wheat — and others across the nation boost production, including by offering expanding insurance to farmers encouraging them to produce two crops in the upcoming season.

Biden’s also looking to increase technological assistance to farmers and boost domestic fertilizer production.

“We’re gonna see what actions we can take to increase fertilizer supplies globally, and identify how we can work together to prevent export restrictions on food and agricultural inputs and bring more global production to market, which will stabilize prices and bring more certainty to our economy,” he said.

Biden was greeted upon arrival at O’Hare International Airport by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was unable to greet the president due to a previously scheduled trip to Texas. The president joined Kelly at the Kankakee farm, where he briefly spoke with Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

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