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The guy deciding how to spend $1.2 trillion from Biden’s infrastructure bill is expected to leave the White House

Analysis by Nicole Goodkind, CNN

New York (CNN) — A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here. You can listen to an audio version of the newsletter by clicking the same link.

For nearly two years, Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to President Joe Biden and former mayor of New Orleans, has played the role of White House infrastructure coordinator, tasked with giving away $1.2 trillion allocated in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Now, Landrieu is expected to leave his role as White House infrastructure coordinator in the coming months, a source familiar with the decision told CNN. NBC first reported Landrieu’s expected departure.

As Biden’s go-to infrastructure guy, Landrieu and his 15-person team have spent the better part of two years traveling the country (so far he’s clocked more than 110,000 miles and visited 128 cities, towns, counties and tribal communities) looking for ways to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure and attempting to set up a system that collaborates with local communities to provide investments in roads and bridges, airports, waterways, clean air and safe water.

Before the Bell spoke with Landrieu about the weight of his role ahead of his panel at the Bold New Consensus conference, hosted by the Economic Security Project in New York last Thursday.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Before the Bell: What has your current role taught you about the disparity of resources in the US?

Mitch Landrieu: You can have an idea of what to do, but you’ve got to get the ‘how to do it’ right, which requires intense coordination between the federal folks on the Cabinet level with the governors and the mayors and the county executives to get the money down to the ground where it matters.

You can see in the funding for the infrastructure bill that we’re working hard to do all of that. Last month we gave $3.7 billion to help folks lower their heating bills ahead of winter. We’re also making sure that the governors are using [federally supported water infrastructure funds] to ensure that folks actually have indoor plumbing, which some places like Lowndes County, Alabama, or Napakiak, Alaska, struggle with.

How do long-term infrastructure plans play into the reality of electoral politics and four-year term limits?

We’re going fast, we want this to happen as quickly as humanly possible, but we also need to make sure communities get what works for them. The opposite of that is to go put something up wherever and don’t worry about where the community is. That’s why the Interstate Highway System split Black communities in half. We want to build generational wealth and do it in a way that heals communities rather than separates them. And that always takes a bit of thought.

Recession has been a buzzword for the last two years, and the Biden administration has stood as one of the lone voices saying the US economy will be fine. Now it appears that Wall Street is starting to agree. Do you feel like taking a victory lap here?

President Biden has understood, perhaps more than the brilliant economist with lots of PhDs behind their name, the simple fact that you should not have to lay people off and reduce wages if the point is to have more jobs with increased wages and to have a soft landing.

You have really prominent economists who have been predicting doom for the last two years. And look, if you go outside every day and claim it’s going to rain, one day you’re going to be right. But I do think that it is worth taking a step back and asking whether or not we’re in a different place than we were in [previous economic cycles]. Because as all of these economists can tell you, the market is not responding the way they thought it would.

We have a lot of work to do. We want to make sure we get to a soft landing. It looks like we’re heading that way and we’re hopeful, but that didn’t happen by accident. One of the reasons that happened is because the president passed four major pieces of legislation that have been rebuilding the economy in a completely different way and are completely distinct from trickle-down economics.

Recent polling has shown that Americans are worried about a surge in crime. And whether that’s real or perceived, it’s still a major source of anxiety. Can infrastructure changes and updates help make cities safer? 

When you’re governing, both perception and reality are important. You can tell people that they’re not feeling what they’re feeling and give them reasons why they shouldn’t be, but that never really lands very well.

The physical design of a city or community and county and the better infrastructure you have, the safer a place feels. The feelings in cities are always better when things are not crumbling and neighborhoods are not separated.

If you’re building generational wealth through jobs, those individuals are working rather than succumbing to the temptation to get involved in other ways of making a living. We think about this holistically in the White House, and we think about it quite a lot. But on the law enforcement side itself, the president is attacking this from the mental health side, he’s dealing with substance abuse. He’s also dealing with policing and he’s also dealing with guns, all those things are critically important.

China is spending nearly this much on infrastructure projects each year. How does the US keep up?

The truth of the matter is that investing in people and investing in things creates a strong economy where people can build generational wealth.

Between the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS act, there’s been a $1.8 trillion dollar investment. You may recall that when this conversation started about three or four years ago, the number was $6 trillion. The fact of the matter is the unfunded deficit on capital needs in America is bigger than that. So $1.2 trillion is significant, but it’s just a downpayment on what the real needs are.

Now, the other thing I will say to you is this, I’ve been doing this now for two years. I’ve been to red states and blue states, small communities, large communities, and I have not had one Republican congressman say ‘I don’t want clean water in my district’ or ‘I don’t want that new road’ or ‘I don’t want that broadband for the people that live down the street.’ Everybody wants it. Everybody needs it.

WeWork files for bankruptcy

WeWork, the beleaguered coworking startup, has filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court.

The chapter 11 bankruptcy announcement caps a stunning downfall for the once-high-flying, SoftBank-backed venture, which was privately valued at some $47 billion at its peak, reports my colleague Catherine Thorbecke.

“Now is the time for us to pull the future forward by aggressively addressing our legacy leases and dramatically improving our balance sheet,” said David Tolley, WeWork CEO, in a news release. “We remain committed to investing in our products, services, and world-class team of employees to support our community.”

Once a much-celebrated tech unicorn that promised to revolutionize the future of office work — via, among other things, free-flowing craft beer — a perfect storm of factors caused WeWork to start to come undone in the wake of a botched attempt to go public back in 2019.

At the time, IPO paperwork revealed larger-than-expected losses and potential conflicts of interest with the company’s cofounder and then-CEO Adam Neumann. Neumann, whose unorthodox leadership style resulted in WeWork’s culture becoming the subject of much news coverage, was ousted in 2019 following pressure from investors.

WeWork eventually went public roughly two years later at a much-reduced valuation of some $9 billion. But by 2021, market sentiment, and the easy access to capital that helped prop up much of the startup world before the pandemic, had started to shift.

Shares for WeWork have plunged roughly 98% in 2023 alone.

Striking actors say they have responded to Hollywood and TV studios’ ‘best and final offer’

SAG-AFTRA said it has responded to Hollywood studios’ “last, best & final offer” on Monday as pressure ramps up to reach a deal ending the industry-freezing strike, reports my colleague Ramishah Maruf.

The actors’ union said in a message to its members that there are several “essential items” that the two sides have yet to reach agreement on, such as the use of AI.

The union said every member of its negotiating committee “is determined to secure the right deal and thereby bring this strike to an end responsibly.”

It’s still not clear when a deal to end the nearly four-month-long strike will be reached, but the standoff has taken on heightened urgency in recent days as the two sides work to resolve the standoff in time to salvage the remainder of the winter television season.

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CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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