On Friday, President Joe Biden is traveling to Pittsburgh ahead of the midterm elections
However, Biden faced one of his presidency’s more persistent problems. Key Democrats, especially ones from swing districts, declined to attend his speech.
In Pittsburgh, Biden will face both burnt bridges and collapsed bridges, as a local bridge collapsed Friday morning before Biden’s scheduled speech about his bipartisan infrastructure bill.
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Two of the three leading Democrats on Pennsylvania’s statewide ballot this spring who were invited to appear with Biden will not attend, their campaigns confirmed on the eve of the president’s visit.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a leading Senate candidate, claimed to be skipping Biden’s speech due to a scheduled appearance in a faraway part of the state. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the likely Democratic nominee in the race for governor, will be absent because of scheduling conflicts, according to their spokespeople.
Another top Senate candidate, Rep. Conor Lamb, a longtime Biden supporter based in Pittsburgh, will attend, his office confirmed.
All three had been invited to participate in a photo line with the president.
The high-profile absences come as Democrats in other states have begun taking modest steps to distance themselves from the first-term president, whose approval ratings have fallen sharply in recent months. And while Fetterman and Shapiro indicated that politics had no bearing on their schedules, their decisions to avoid Biden, particularly in his home state, could fuel further questions among anxious Democratic candidates elsewhere as they decide whether to embrace the struggling president.
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“Josh Shapiro is running to be the governor of Pennsylvania and he’s focused on the issues that matter to Pennsylvania families,” a Shapiro spokesperson told The Associated Press on Friday.
Shapiro made three appearances with Biden last summer and fall when the president’s numbers were better. But Shapiro’s spokesperson claimed that the candidate had a scheduling conflict this time. He did not detail the conflict.
Leading Pennsylvania Democrats who are not on the ballot this year did not have the same scheduling conflicts. Those who will appear with Biden on Friday include Gov. Tom Wolf, who is term-limited, and Sen. Bob Casey, whose current term runs through 2024.
It’s been a different calculation for vulnerable Democrats who will face voters in 2022.
Earlier in the month, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, a leading candidate for governor in another swing state, skipped a chance to appear with the president in the state, citing yet another unspecified scheduling conflict. And in the weeks since, several other notable Democrats have seemed to distance themselves from Biden as well.
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Last week, Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke said he didn’t need the Democratic president’s assistance in his campaign for governor.
“I’m not interested in any national politician — anyone outside of Texas — coming into this state to help decide the outcome of this,” O’Rourke said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “I think we all want to make sure that we’re working with, listening to and voting with one another here in Texas.”
However, the Pennsylvania absences look particularly embarrassing for Biden. After all, Biden was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he lived there for the first 10 years of his life.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said he’s not surprised that some Democratic candidates might want to distance themselves from Biden… and then he browbeat these candidates, calling them “stupid.”
“They’re stupid because things can turn around in politics pretty dramatically,” Rendell told the AP. “You can’t hide. People end up thinking less of you for not showing up.”
Fetterman, the lieutenant governor running for Senate, spoke fondly of Biden’s visit, even though he planned on skipping it.
“It’s great that President Biden is coming to Pittsburgh to talk about infrastructure,” Fetterman told the AP.
Lamb’s staff also gushed about the infrastructure bill.
“President Biden first announced his infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh, and Conor looks forward to welcoming him back and talking about all the good jobs that bill will create in the Pittsburgh area and all over Pennsylvania,” said Lamb’s campaign manger.
Then, shortly after these remarks, a two-lane bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh.
Rescuers rappelled nearly 150 feet (46 meters) while others formed a human chain to help rescue multiple people from a dangling bus.
There were minor injuries from the collapse but no fatalities, said authorities, who also said they were flying drones to make sure no one is under any collapsed sections.
Police reported the span, in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park, came down just before 7 a.m.
A photo from the scene showed a commuter bus upright on a section of the collapsed bridge.
Take a look —
We’ve seen as many pictures and views as we can from different angles this morning but this is the picture just sent to me from Pittsburgh Public safety of the bridge collapse @KDKA pic.twitter.com/3GfTufF6HQ
— Bryant Reed (@Reed_Reports) January 28, 2022
City officials said the collapse caused a gas leak but the gas has since been shut off.
Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Chief Darryl Jones said three or four vehicles were involved in the collapse and there were 10 minor injuries with three brought to the hospital. None of the injuries were life-threatening, Jones said.
Authorities told motorists to avoid the area.
In a statement, the White House said Biden would proceed with his planned trip to Pittsburgh.
“Our team is in touch with state and local officials on the ground as they continue to gather information about the cause of the collapse,” the statement said. “The President is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.