Biden Hails Renton Tech as Vital Path to Reviving Middle Class

By:  The Seattle Times - Jim Brunner
Source: The Seattle Times

Vice President Joe Biden toured a community college job-training program here Thursday, promoting the federal grants that support it as a way to help the middle class regain its footing.

Speaking to a small group of students and instructors at Renton Technical College, Biden acknowledged “the middle class is hurting,” but said he gets angry at those who accuse out-of-work people of shiftlessness.

Americans will work, Biden said. “They just want a shot.”

Biden, who paired his official visit with a Democratic political fundraiser later in the day, was at the college to highlight a $450 million grant program by the U.S. Department of Labor.

A consortium led by Renton Tech received a $10 million slice of that in the latest round of grant awards.

The college, which specializes in apprenticeships, engineering and manufacturing degrees, was named among the top 10 community colleges in the nation this year by the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Biden said such colleges, aided by federal grants, can help restore an “I can do this” mentality to the nation.

Before his speech, Biden, accompanied by Washington’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and college President Steve Hanson, toured an aerospace lab and a classroom filled with industrial lathes.

With media in tow, Biden paused to chat with Adam Pohlman, a former construction worker who said he left the field when jobs dried up during the Great Recession. Pohlman showed off a piece of metal-fabricating equipment used to train students. Biden appeared impressed at a printout of computer code students write to run the machine, remarking, “I can’t pretend I understand this.”

Biden called such community-college programs vital to giving workers a pathway to the middle class. He said six of 10 jobs in coming years will require a degree or certificate beyond high school.

But not everyone needs a full four-year degree, he said, pointing to manufacturing jobs he said are returning to the U.S. He called apprenticeship programs, like those offered at the college, “the single most direct track to employment.”

After the college appearance, Biden rode in a motorcade to the Washington State Convention Center, where he delivered a partisan speech to more than 800 at Cantwell’s “Woman of Valor” fundraising lunch to aid Democratic women running for the U.S. Senate.

Biden said he hopes the coming election will clear out what he termed “dead wood” in the Senate — people who are blocking action on issues such as raising the federal minimum wage and equal pay for women.

Biden said Democrats want to defend women’s security, both economic and physical.

An author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, Biden called domestic violence “a stain upon our national character.”

He said domestic violence has declined but that men must change their attitudes.

“Men have a responsibility to stand up. Men have a responsibility to intervene. Men have a responsibility to take responsibility,” he said.

Biden said he is often asked how he’ll know how the campaign against domestic violence has succeeded.

“Success is when not a single woman in America who is abused mentally or physically ever, ever asks herself the question, ‘What did I do?’ ” Biden said. “It is never, never, never, never the woman’s fault. Period. Never. No matter what she said.”

While Biden is a popular fundraising draw for Democrats, his incautious way with words has at times caused headaches for the Obama administration.

He preceded his visit to Seattle by setting off an international diplomatic incident earlier this month with comments accusing some U.S. allies in the Middle East of abetting Islamic terrorism. Biden apologized for those remarks to leaders of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

But at the fundraiser, while not mentioning the international incident, Biden declared: “I know I get criticized heartily for saying exactly what I believe. I make no apologies for that. None whatsoever.”

Biden’s Seattle visit was his last stop on a West Coast trip that began Monday in Las Vegas, where he promoted raising the federal minimum wage. On Wednesday, he was in Portland to help Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley with his bid for a second term.