CINCINNATI (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that more investment in infrastructure and job training is needed to increase economic opportunities in the nation's cities.
Biden spoke at the National Urban League conference, where the theme is "One Nation Underemployed." Biden said the keys to putting more people in better-paying jobs and spurring economic growth in cities are workforce training to meet today's business needs and improving roads, bridges and other transportation.
"This is a new era," Biden said. "We are better-positioned than anybody in the world, but we need to invest in infrastructure and skilled job training."
President Barack Obama's $302 billion plan earlier this year to increase transportation spending and keep transit programs going for four years got a chilly reception from Republicans in Congress. House Speaker John Boehner, the Republican from a northern Cincinnati suburb, said in a statement Thursday that Biden should urge Democrats to work with House Republicans to help the economy by expanding energy production and cutting government red tape.
Sprinkling his speech with quotes from civil rights leaders such as the late Whitney Young and Martin Luther King Jr., Biden said minority gains both economically and in civil rights are "under siege." He blasted voter ID and other proposals he said would restrict voting in the guise of preventing fraud and corruption that doesn't happen. He made similar comments Wednesday to another major civil rights organization, the NAACP convention in Las Vegas.
"Name it for what it is — an attempt to repress minority voting," Biden said Thursday. He said that protecting voting "used to be a bipartisan thing."
Earlier, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus assured attendees that the GOP is making a serious, determined effort to build ties with minority voters while saying blacks continue to lag in unemployment and other economic measures during the Obama administration. Blacks overwhelmingly supported Obama in his two presidential elections.
Republicans have added "black engagement" staffers in various states, including swing-state Ohio, to help reach out to black voters, Priebus said.
"So we want you to know, desperately, that the Republican Party is listening, we want a relationship, we want to fight for everybody in this country," he said. "We're serious about doing things differently."
Urban League president Marc Morial said the nonpartisan organization likes a diverse discussion and wants to keep up a dialogue with Republicans.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who also has been reaching out to minorities as he considers a 2016 presidential bid, will speak at the conference Friday. Biden hasn't ruled out running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Some 8,500 people are in Cincinnati for the conference, which besides discussions about urban issues and civil rights will honor actor Forest Whitaker at its Saturday night dinner and features an advance screening of "Get On Up," the biopic about soul music star James Brown.
BET Politics - Your source for the latest news, photos and videos illuminating key issues and personalities in African-American political life, plus commentary from some of our liveliest voices. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
(Photos from left: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, AP Photo/The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cara Owsley)