Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has spent much of his more than 30 years in Washington talking about infrastructure.
As such, Monday was a crowning achievement for the two-term Ohio Senator, who was the lead Republican negotiator on the $1.2 bipartisan infrastructure bill, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Portman was one of the few Republicans to attend the White House ceremony on Monday where President Joe Biden signed the sweeping package into law.
“It's not about legacy, it's about doing the right thing,” Portman told Spectrum News on Wednesday, in his first Ohio TV interview since the signing ceremony.
Portman, who is retiring next year, was the only Republican to speak at Monday's ceremony – he even got a shoutout from the president at the event.
“Senator Rob Portman is a really helluva good guy. I’m not hurting you, Rob, because I know you’re not running again. That’s the only reason I’m saying it,” Biden quipped. “But you are a helluva good guy.”
The infrastructure bill will send more than $12 billion to Ohio over the next five years for highways, water infrastructure, public transportation, expanding broadband access and more.
Portman said it should also cover most of the $2.5 billion needed to repair Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge — and build a companion bridge — if Ohio’s government applies for the right funding and is able to pay the state’s share.
“Look, there's got to be a local match, there always has to be, but it's relatively smaller now because of this legislation,” Portman said. “And the money finally is there. So we have the tools to be able to do this, we just got to get our act together and be sure that we are putting our best foot forward with our application.”
The legislation did receive bipartisan support in the House and Senate, though far more Republicans voted against it than for it — only one Ohio Republican in the House, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, voted in favor.
Former President Donald Trump has also criticized it, arguing it’s connected to Biden’s separate ‘Build Back Better Act.’
And five of the six major Republican candidates running for Portman’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat have criticized Portman for pursuing the infrastructure deal; only State Sen. Matt Dolan commends him.
“Some believe that this was a gateway, as they have said, to the larger bill, the so-called Build Back Better Bill, the partisan tax and spend bill. I have always felt just the opposite,” Portman told Spectrum News.
Portman does side with his party in being firmly against Biden’s social spending and climate package that Democrats are trying to push through on their own.
“I just think it's a bad bill and certainly the wrong time to do it,” he said.
But Portman used Monday’s bill signing as a platform to call for more bipartisanship in a bitterly-divided Washington.
“We can start by recognizing that finding common ground to advance the interests of the American people should be rewarded, not attacked,” Portman said in his speech at the White House ceremony.
He told Spectrum News he said that because it’s sad that even something like a bill funding basic infrastructure, like roads and bridges, barely squeaked through Congress.
“I'm concerned that in our country, if we can't even do something like this, infrastructure, and find that common ground, then it’s very difficult to address the other problems we have,” Portman said.