President Obama visits Port, Charcoal Pit

By WDEL staff reports 12:57pm, July 17, 2014 - Updated 9:45pm, July 17, 2014
VIDEO: WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.
President Obama speaks at the Port of Wilmington about infrastructure improvements.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.

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"Let's build some bridges. Let's build some roads," said the president as his words were met with a standing ovation.

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Air Force One touched down at the Delaware Air National Guard base in New Castle around 12:25 p.m.

According to pool reports, the president was joined aboard Air Force One by Senator Chris Coons and Congressman John Carney.

On the tarmac, he was greeted by Gov. Jack Markell; and POTUS gave a hug to both Attorney General Beau Biden and his wife Hallie. Also greeting the President was New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, New Castle Mayor Donald Reese, Brigadier Gen. Carol Timmons, assistant adjutant general for the Delaware Air National Guard, and Col. Michael Feeley, commander of the 166th Airlift Wing on base.

Also on hand for the arrival were invited guests, including New Castle County Council President Chris Bullock and more than two dozen members of the Delaware Army and Air National Guards.

Click here for a photo album from Pres. Obama's visit.

The president's motorcade left the base around 12:35 p.m. But before heading to the Port of Wilmington, the President stopped at the iconic Charcoal Pit in North Wilmington for lunch. There, he with Tanei Benjamin, who wrote to the president in 2013 about her struggle as single working mother. Benjamin, seated in a back corner booth, stood to hug POTUS with tears in her eyes

According to pool reports, Pres. Obama shook hands and mingled with many of the diners, stopping at one point to pick up seven-month old Jaidyn Oates and pose for a photo. He invoked Vice President Biden's name a few names, noting to some diners, "Me and Joe, we share shakes all the time," and to others, "Biden told me the burgers are pretty good."

Just before hugging another young girl, whose mother lifted her across the booth to hug the president, Obama asked, "Do you give good hugs?"

To a young boy who got nervous and hesitated speaking to the president, Obama said, "I know. It's nerve-wracking running into the president."

The president ordered a 4-ounce "Pit special," which is burger with fries. He asked for it to be done medium well and to have lettuce and tomato. He also asked for a water with lemon.

The president left the restaurant around 1:30 p.m. - arriving at to the Port of Wilmington at 1:47 p.m.

He took the stage at the port at 2:10 p.m., speaking for about 18 minutes.

He began by talking about reports of the downed jetliner in Ukraine.

"It looks like may be a terrible tragedy. Right now, we're working to determine whether there were American citizens on-board. That is our first priority. The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why," he said.

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He then transitioned to a lighter note.

"It is wonderful to be back in Delaware. It is great to be in the state that gave us Joe Biden. We've got actually some better looking Bidens here today," he laughed. "Beau and his wife, Hallie, are here."

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Obama spoke before a few hundred people, in front of several large containers used to ship goods. A couple of dozen construction workers wearing hard hats stood behind him, and there were cranes visible in the distance.

The shuttered I-495 bridge was decked out in a display of patriotism with an American flag above it and several more flags whipping in the light breeze around it.

"The bridge behind me used to carry 90,000 cars every day. Since last month, it's been closed for repairs," said Obama.

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While he said he would sign the stop-gap spending bill to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, he criticized it for not being long-term, giving a shout out to Governor Markell.

"Even smaller transportation projects can take years to design and plan and build. A few months of funding doesn't cut it. So Jack (Markell) said, 'To call this a band aid is an insult to a band aid.' That's a pretty good line, I'm going to have to try that out," said the president.

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To help spur more transportation projects, the president also signed an executive order, creating a new center that will be a one-stop shop for cities and states looking to partner with the private sector to fund infrastructure projects.

"My administration's going to help states and cities apply for federal loans, get more public/private partnerships up and running, get more investment flowing into communities like Wilmington," he said.

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He also further pushed on Congress.

"And if Washington were working the way it was supposed, Congress would be creating jobs right now, jobs like rebuilding bridges and roads and airports and ports all across the country.

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The POTUS motorcade arrived at the Delaware Air National Guard base in New Castle at 2:45 p.m. and immediately boarded Air Force One. The plane departed at at 2:53 p.m. as the president headed to a fundraiser in New York.

The visit was President Obama's first to Delaware since 2010 when he campaigned at the Grand Opera House for Senator Chris Coons. He also attended Vice President Joe Biden's mother's funeral earlier that same year.

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