The Slatest

Joe Biden Finally Got to Be the President of Trains

TOOT TOOT!

Joe Biden in the Rose Garden, wearing a train conductor cap, surrounded by Marty Walsh and Celeste Drake
“Amtrak” Joe Biden speaks in the Rose Garden Thursday morning, flanked by Secretary of Labor Marty “Choo-Choo” Walsh and the Office of Management’s Celeste “Northeast Regional” Drake. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos via Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images (Biden) and Egonek/iStock/Getty Images Plus (hat).

Things looked bad in the world of trains. The freight-rail industry and the unions representing their workers were stuck in a stalemate leading up to a Friday deadline. The workers wanted to be able to go to the doctor without being fired. The industry, unsurprisingly, wanted to maintain the status quo in which workers work all the time and don’t get any sick days. A strike seemed imminent—one that would surely result in shipping delays, Amtrak cancellations, and general economic mayhem.

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But then! On the horizon! Who was that, chugging into town, sleeves rolled up, ready to deal with this problem? It was Joe Biden, Amtrak Joe, famous lover of trains, steering the locomotive of federal deal-brokering.

Thanks to an all-night bargaining session, overseen by Secretary of Labor Marty “Choo-Choo” Walsh, the workers and management agreed to an eleventh-hour deal averting a strike. Negotiators reportedly worked for 20 straight hours to come to the tentative agreement, which allows railroad workers to take time off for medical appointments without facing disciplinary action, and also grants them an additional day off of work.

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And on Thursday morning, Joe Biden took a moment to toot his own horn. At the White House, Biden praised union leaders and railroad companies as well as Walsh and the other members of his administration who, he said, were instrumental in helping the agreement along. Generally, he looked positively delighted to be talking about our nation’s rail system, which he pointed out several times is—“literally!”—the backbone of the economy.

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And who can blame him? This is, to Joe Biden, the whole point of being president. Finally, he doesn’t have to argue with socialists or scold Donald Trump or battle a brutally imbalanced Supreme Court. This is the good stuff: gettin’ folks to the bargaining table! Unions and management working together! Negotiators talking through the night, running on no sleep! Handshakes! Deals! Trains! TOOT TOOT!

Plenty could still go wrong, of course. It’s only a tentative agreement, and tentative agreements get voted down by workers all the time. Union membership might decide that the single paid sick day management has, reportedly, agreed to give them is not, in fact, enough. Should it all fall apart, the administration will definitely be blamed for the economic fallout. But for now, reporters are stressing that Biden was “personally animated” to get this deal done. For now, Joe Biden, America’s Train President, has (ahem) engineered the exact kind of headlines he loves best.

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