Joe Biden said America was “ready to take off” in his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night as he highlighted an emerging revival underway in the country following a devastating pandemic and an economic crisis.
“We are working again. Dreaming again. Discover again. Rule the world again. We have shown ourselves to each other and to the world: there is no stopping in America, ”he said. “A hundred days ago the American house was on fire. We had to act.
Biden began delivering his remarks on Capitol Hill shortly after 9 p.m. in Washington without the usual audience of lawmakers and senior officials, as attendance was limited due to coronavirus precautions.
But the setting was familiar to the 78-year-old, who served as a Delaware senator for decades and vice president for eight years under Barack Obama. Prior to delivering his speech, Biden noted that he was the first president to deliver the speech accompanied by two women – Kamala Harris, vice president, and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House. “It’s about time,” he said.
Biden touted the economic recovery in the United States and urged Congress to pass his broad spending program. After enacting a $ 1.9 billion fiscal stimulus package in March, Biden focused on securing support for a $ 2.3 billion infrastructure spending bill he he called a “blue collar plan for America” and a $ 1.8 billion expansion of the social safety net he unveiled on Wednesday. “We can’t stop now. We are competing with China and other countries to win the 21st century. ”
The US president wants to pay for the next steps in his economic program with higher taxes on businesses and the wealthy, which have sparked a backlash on Wall Street and US businesses, opposition from Republicans and some mistrust among his fellow Democrats.
But Biden doubled down on the need to generate income from large corporations and high-income households.
“It’s time for corporate America and the richest 1% of Americans to pay their fair share. You just have to pay their fair share, ”Biden said. “Look, I’m not here to punish anyone. But I will not add to the tax burden on the middle class of this country.
Biden added that “Wall Street did not build this country” and stressed that he brings a different economic philosophy to America. “My fellow Americans, the economic spinoff never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom to the top and the mid-range. “
Biden’s speech came on the eve of his 100th day in office and more than a year after the spread of the new coronavirus locked down the country and left the economy in free fall. He cited the rapid rollout of vaccination as proof that he had delivered on his campaign promise to restore competence and empathy in the battle against the virus.
He said, “At a mass vaccination center in Glendale, Arizona, I asked a nurse what it was. She said “every hit feels like a dose of hope.” It was one of the many personal anecdotes about ordinary Americans that punctuated his speech.
The steep upward curve in vaccinations is likely to flatten as health officials encounter more hesitant Americans, a problem Biden has sought to address. “Go get the vaccine, America,” he urged.
On foreign policy, Biden admitted that world leaders had questioned America’s persistence in their conversations with him: “The comment I hear most often is, ‘we see America is return – but for how long? traditional themes of the projection of American power abroad.
“We have, without hyperbole, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world,” he said. He added that he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the United States will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific, just as it has done with NATO in Europe “not to start a conflict – but to prevent one “.
Biden promised America would provide Covid-19 vaccines to the rest of the world, but only once every American has access to them. “We will become an arsenal of vaccines for other countries, just as America is an arsenal of democracy for the world. . .[But]all Americans will have access to it before that.
The president has been under pressure to do more to promote sourcing to the rest of the world, but his administration has been torn apart over whether to donate US-made doses to other locations.
Earlier this week, the White House said the United States would share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has yet to be approved in the country. But experts are calling on the administration to do more, by sharing manufacturing expertise and forcing American companies to share their intellectual property.
Tim Scott, Republican Senator from South Carolina, delivered the official GOP response to Biden’s speech. In televised remarks, Scott singled out Biden and the Democrats on everything from economic stimulus to the president’s infrastructure proposals, accusing the majority party of refusing to work across the aisle.
“Democrats want a partisan wishlist,” Scott said. “They won’t even build bridges. . . to build bridges. ”
Scott, the only black Republican senator in the 100-member chamber, also challenged the Biden administration’s racial justice agenda, saying at one point: “Listen to me clearly: America is not a racist country. . ”
Republicans hope to eliminate Biden and Democrats by next year’s midterm election, as they aim to regain control of the House and Senate. Democrats hold both houses by the slimmest of margins.