President Joe Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, unveiling a sweeping new American vision and painting a portrait of what his presidency means for all Americans.
Speaking to a far-from-packed room, President Biden spoke amid the unusual circumstances of the moment: social distancing and mask-donning attendees shed light on the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the Biden Administration has chosen to handle the virus. It was a “reminder of these extraordinary times,” said Biden.
Taking off his mask as he stood at the dais, Biden discussed a wide array of issues facing Americans, as well as his plans for the future.
“Crisis and opportunity”
Biden portrayed the situation facing America as one of both “crisis and opportunity.” This theme has defined his Administration’s actions to date, with his inheriting of the pandemic and push for expanded federal spending.
Discussing the American Rescue Plan, Biden implicitly acknowledged that it garnered no Republican support in Congress, but claimed that it had broad public support from Americans of all party identifications.
He framed the threat of climate change as a “climate crisis”, saying that the “most important word” in relation to America’s response to climate change is “jobs.” This more hopeful note departs from the past rhetoric of President Obama, which focused on regulatory fixes.
“America is on the move again”
Biden discussed the success thus far of the American vaccination campaign, urging all Americans to be vaccinated from COVID-19. This line drew applause from both sides of the chamber.
He also mentioned that the $1,400 checks to individuals delivered by the federal government are making “a real difference” and enabling families to spend money and stimulate the economy. America generated “1,300,000 jobs in the first 100 days” of his Presidency, which Biden cited as proof of his Administration’s economic policy.
Biden went on to advocate for the passage of the American Jobs Plan, saying that much of the needed investment in America can only be achieved by the government, not private investors. Defending Republican critiques of the bill’s expansive focus — it is not only roads and bridges being funded by the bill, but rural broadband, water pipe upgrades, and more — Biden pointed out how these investments might improve the lives of Americans.
The President posited that America has reason to be hopeful. He mentioned that America is going to Mars, expanding innovation, and “build[ing] back better.”
The President related a story from his trip to Glendale, Arizona’s vaccination site, saying that a worker told him that every vaccine is a “dose of hope.”
The facility being referenced was the world-renowned vaccination site at State Farm Stadium, which Biden previously praised the Gov. Doug Ducey Administration and Arizona Department of Health for working to create.
“Pittsburgh instead of Beijing”
Taking aim at a rising China, Biden pushed “Buy American” policies and said that American supply chains should be moved from China and towards the United States. There’s no reason, said Biden, that products demanded in America shouldn’t be created in “Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.”
This rhetoric is strikingly similar to former President Donald Trump’s advocacy for expanded domestic industrial capacity.
Despite these digs at the Chinese Communist Party, Biden described Chinese President Xi Jin Ping as “deadly earnest” about China becoming the most important nation in the world. He urged Americans to “win the competition for the future” by championing democracy over autocracy and proving Xi wrong.
Labor and economic policy
Biden asked Congress to pass a national $15 minimum wage, the pro-labor union PRO Act, and further investments in American infrastructure and jobs.
He drew a line between himself and the progressive wing of his party, saying that he believes that Americans should be allowed to be “billionaires and millionaires,” but that corporations and the wealthy should “pay their fair share.” “We’re going to award work, not just wealth,” said Biden. He argued for raising the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, and raising the top personal income tax rate from 35% to 39.6%.
New family plan
President Biden also unveiled a new spending plan, targeted at supporting families and children. His proposal would ensure free preschool, as well as free two-year community college for all. It would cost approximately $1.8 trillion, and is now sent to Congress.
12 weeks of paid family medical leave for mothers and fathers would be covered by the legislation.
In addition, it would expand Pell grants and other financial supports for low-income communities. To learn more, read here.
Biden’s bipartisan overtures lie in contrast to his Administration’s record to date. All of his landmark pieces of legislation passed so far have received few, if no, votes from elected Republican members of Congress.
He has also signed a record number of executive orders, rivaling President Franklin D. Roosevelt.