Joe Biden used his first address at a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night to give America a sense of optimism after a brutal 15 months marked by the pandemic, the ensuing recession, racial protests and a controversial election crowned by the January attack on the United States Capitol. But he also promoted his ambitious agenda in the face of Republican opposition and weak Democratic majorities.
Here are five takeaways.
Biden is ready to fight taxes and spending
The US president is desperate to push through his next two multi-billion dollar spending plans, and he’s not afraid of tax increases on big business and the rich to pay them off. The speech contained a long segment urging profitable and well-to-do businesses to shoulder higher levies, saying it was time for them to pay their “fair share”.
While defending pressure for “buy American” manufacturing provisions, he signaled that displaced blue-collar workers would be a priority for his administration. “Some of you back home are wondering if these jobs are for you,” he said. “You feel left behind and forgotten in a rapidly changing economy.”
He sees the light at the end of the Covid tunnel
Poll after poll, Biden’s is getting its best marks for its handling of the pandemic, and that confidence is reflected in its speech. He focused on the rollout of vaccination in the United States, saying it brought smiles to children as they returned to school, tears of joy for educators and long-awaited hugs for grown-ups. relatives of the country. Biden has always warned that America should not let its guard down, but his tone was much less somber than in the past. “Our progress over the past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history is one of the greatest logistics achievements our country has ever seen.”
China and Russia are his biggest foreign policy priorities
At one point in the speech, Biden stepped out of the script to talk about Xi Jinping, the Chinese president. “He is extremely serious about becoming the largest and most consistent nation in the world.” The remark highlighted concern for Chinese power and influence which consumes its administration at least as much as that of Donald Trump. With Western Europe barely featured in the speech, Biden was keen to stress his administration’s willingness to promote human rights. Russia was his other big concern. “I said very clearly to the president [Vladimir] Putin that even if we do not seek escalation, their actions have consequences, ”he said.
His calls for bipartisanship echo hollow
Biden, a Senate veteran, campaigned to pledge to rekindle bipartisanship and work the political aisle. On Wednesday, he implored Republican lawmakers to work with Democrats to push through his proposals on everything from infrastructure reform to tougher gun laws. But its overtures have fallen on deaf ears, with many Republicans disillusioned after Democrats pushed forward the $ 1.9 billion economic relief bill earlier this year without a single GOP vote. .
When asked what he thought of the speech, Mitt Romney, the Utah senator considered among the most moderate Republicans, replied, “Well, $ 6 billion and it’s not over. I’m sure Bernie was happy. He added: “In terms of meeting in the middle, that hasn’t been something the administration has shown yet.”
Democrats and Republicans are still far apart on racial justice issues
Debates over racial justice and equality have long divided Americans, and the murder of George Floyd last year and the wave of Black Lives Matter protests that followed have crept into politics. Biden and Democrats are pushing for ambitious federal policing reforms. “We have a real chance to uproot [the] Systemic racism that’s rampant in American life, ”Biden said.
The official GOP response to Biden’s speech was delivered by Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator, who received praise from fellow Democrats for his role in bipartisan negotiations over police reform.
But Scott drew criticism from Democrats by saying, “Listen to me clearly: America is not a racist country” and accused the Liberals of seeking to divide the country by teaching children that “the color of their skin defines them ”.
Scott defended voter identification laws and election changes in Georgia that Biden called “worse than Jim Crow”, and instead accused Democrats of pushing through a “Washington power grab” with effort. to strengthen federal election laws.