Biden speech live: president pitches ‘once in a generation’ investment in American families – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Biden speech live: president pitches ‘once in a generation’ investment in American families – live” was written by Maanvi Singh, for theguardian.com on Thursday 29th April 2021 02.33 UTC

Tim Scott started by saying: “Our president seems like a good man.”

He praised Biden’s commitment to bipartisanship but accused him of saying he wanted bipartisanship in name only. “Our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes,” he said.

Scott is in line with the Republican party line that Democrats aren’t even trying to be bipartisan – passing Biden’s massive spending plans without any Republican support. But it’s a weak line considering that Republicans have vowed to obstruct all of Biden’s proposals, even though – outside of the US Capitol, both Republican and Democratic voters support the president’s coronavirus relief plan and infrastructure plan.

Tim Scott, a conservative, Christian southerner, is now giving the official Republican response to Biden’s speech.

He has walked the fine line between the establishment and Donald Trump wings of the Republican party with more aplomb than most. His status as a rising star is one of the few things that Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, still agree on.

The only Black Republican in Senate, Scott is leading the party’s efforts to craft legislation with Democrats on police reform in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

He has also previously joined with Democrats Cory Booker and Kamala Harris to work on a bipartisan bill that would make lynching a federal crime, and led the way in creating Opportunity Zones – aimed growth and jobs in low income communities – in Trump’s 2017 tax reform package.

Once hesitant to focus on race in his political career, Scott has increasingly talked about his lived experience as an African American. He has been pulled over by law enforcement “more than 18 times” while driving, he told the Associated Press last year.
All of this has made him an invaluable asset to a party establishment that recognises the need to diversify and broaden its appeal. When it was announced that Scott would respond to Biden on Wednesday night, McConnell described him as “one of the most inspiring and unifying leaders in our nation”.

Yet the senator has somehow managed to square the circle of also staying in Trump’s good graces. His speech at last year’s Republican national convention was a case in point: it praised party orthodoxy on low taxes and school choice, and condemned Democrats and “cancel culture”, without saying much about Trump himself.

And although Scott has on occasion publicly dissented from the former president, for example criticising Trump’s promotion of a video of his supporters shouting “white power”, he usually backs him and stays loyal to his agenda.

The acid test came at January’s Senate impeachment trial when Scott voted against convicting Trump for inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol, tweeting: “An impeachment vote will only lead to more hate and a deeply fractured nation.” He has also played to the Trump base by denouncing “woke supremacy”.

His fealty has been rewarded. Last month Trump endorsed Scott’s 2022 reelection bid, stating: “He is both an outstanding Senator and a person who works tirelessly for the people of his great state, and the USA. Strong on the Military, Law Enforcement, loves our Vets, protects our Second Amendment and our Borders.”

AOC has responded to Biden’s address to Congress, and she makes a good point – grassroots activism matters.

Did the camera catch Ted Cruz dozing off during Biden’s speech? We can’t tell for sure, but he certainly looks sleepy. One thing that can help you stay awake is loudly clapping your hands together, but for some reason Republicans haven’t been doing much of that tonight.

Updated

Biden has wrapped his speech and is now meeting and greeting.

Stay tuned for more updates, fact checks, and analysis.

Biden had also addressed the urgency of addressing police violence.

He spoke about the killing of George Floyd:

It was nearly a year ago before her father’s funeral, when I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter.

As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, “Daddy changed the world.”

After the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, we can see how right she was – if we have the courage to act.

Biden encouraged Congress to pass a police reform act named after Floyd – which Democrats and Republicans in Congress are now negotiating after a long stall. Republican senator Tim Scott, who is tonight delivering his party’s response to Biden’s address, is also the one leading Republicans’ negotiations on the policing legislation.

“As we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol – desecrating our democracy – remain vivid in our minds,” Biden said.

He’s speaking in the very chamber, at the same podium where insurrectionists tried to establish mob rule on 6 January.

Biden continued:

The insurrection was an existential crisis – a test of whether our democracy could survive. It did.

But the struggle is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent…

America’s adversaries – the autocrats of the world – are betting it can’t. They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy.

They are wrong. And we have to prove them wrong.

We have to prove democracy still works.

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Democrats in the House chamber are giving so many standing ovations during Biden’s speech that they could end up being on their feet more than their seats by the end of the night.

But not everyone on the left is happy with Biden’s big address. Ilhan Omar and Bernie Sanders’ former press secretary Briahna Joy Gray have taken the president to task after he said, “Health care should be a right, not a privilege in America.”

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“I want you to know that your president has your back,” Biden says to the transgender community.

This is one of the most direct, supportive statements on the trans community that a US president has ever delivered. It’s the least that was expected of Biden today, as trans rights across the country are being attacked.

Read more about what’s at stake:

Biden toes the line between tough and toned-down rhetoric on Russia and China.

On Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s involvement in election interference:

“I responded in a direct and proportionate way to Russia’s interference in our elections and cyber-attacks on our government and businesses — and they did both of those things,” Biden said, referring to sanctions that were imposed.

On China’s president Xi Jinping:

“America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and industries,” he said, “like subsidies for state-owned enterprises and the theft of American technologies and intellectual property.” Biden has yet to implement such measures.

He also said the US wouldn’t stand for human rights violations and attacks on democratic freedoms.

Here’s a fun(-ish?) game you can play if you’re watching Biden’s speech tonight. The White House released his speech just as he began to address Congress. But he seems to be ad-libbing a fair amount, adding new lines off the cuff about Wall Street, China and food banks.

You can see for yourself what he’s improvising by comparing his speech to his prepared remarks here.

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Biden addresses a divided – and distanced – joint session

Like so much else in his presidency, the depleted ranks – masked members sitting several seats apart on the floor and in the public gallery – have turned down the volume from when Donald Trump delivered these speeches to raucous cheers from Republicans and boos, heckles and shaking heads from Democrats.

Biden is giving the Democrats who present plenty to applaud while eliciting some Republican frowns. It looks like another bad night for bipartisan unity.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” the president said. “The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, forced to endure four years of Trump blasphemies in this very room, visibly lapped it up.

Later Biden effectively sounded the death knell for four decades of Ronald Reagan’s small government, low tax orthodoxy, within which even Bill Clinton and Barack Obama operated.

“My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,” he said. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out.”

Republicans have remained silent, stony faced and riveted to their seats on applause lines such as: “Health care should be a right, not a privilege in America.”

Senator Lindsey Graham frowned, a hand to his chin. Senator Ted Cruz sat with hands folded. Meanwhile, in the gallery, Democrat Joe Manchin is busy taking notes.

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“Trickle-down economics has never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out,” Biden said – capping off a segment of his speech in which he touted his massive investments, and clarified that they’ll be funded by higher taxes on the richest people and corporations.

“I will not impose any tax increases on people making less than $400,000 a year,” he said. “It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% of Americans to pay their fair share.”

He continued:

We’re going to reform corporate taxes so they pay their fair share – and help pay for the public investments their businesses will benefit from.

And, we’re going to reward work, not wealth.

Of course, these views haven’t always been endorsed by Biden. He voted for Regan-era tax cuts.

What we’re seeing here, as in other parts of Biden’s speech today – and in his signature policies – is his administration’s embrace of views that progressives have been touting for years. That may largely be because Biden has recognized that public opinion is moving with progressives.

When Jamaal Bowman delivers the progressive response to the address, we can expect him to push the president – who has shown that he’s open to some progressive ideas – to embrace bolder reforms, faster.

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Fact check: economic growth

“In the process, while this was all going on, the economy created more than 1,300,000 new jobs in 100 days. More new jobs in the first 100 days than any president on record.”

While the economy has rebounded faster than expected, there are about 8.4m jobs that were there before the pandemic that haven’t recovered. And it isn’t clear how much credit Biden can take for this bounce back – it’s largely just due to the reality that the country is reopening as more people get vaccines.

Updated

Fact check: “I traveled over 17,000 miles with” Xi Jinping of China

Although Biden has interacted with Xi Jinping on many occasions, the two don’t have a record of really traveling together, as the Washington Post explains. Biden has made this false claim before. It wasn’t in today’s speech as prepared, and he appears to have ad libbed it.

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It’s a phrase you often hear in US politics: that the middle class “built” the country. And it’s one that Biden has repeated tonight, saying “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built the country – and unions built the middle class!” before calling on Congress to pass his labor reform bill.

But as some commentators have pointed out, this feelgood statement doesn’t actually match the tarnished history of America, which built its foundation on the backs of enslaved Black people.

Updated

Biden introduces his families plan

“To win that competition for the future, we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families, in our children,” he said.

The $1.8tn plan includes funding for universal preschool, two years of free community college, and a national childcare program among other provisions.

“When this nation made 12 years of public education universal in the last century, it made us the best-educated and best-prepared nation in the world,” he said. His plan would tack on four extra years of public education.

“Twelve years is no longer enough today to compete in the 21st century,” he said.

Here’s more on what’s the plan:

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Biden is really pitching a populist message – and directly appealing to working-class voters.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” he said. “The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class.”

“All the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: buy American,” Biden said.

American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products made in America that create American jobs. The way it should be.

Now – I know some of you at home are wondering whether these jobs are for you.

You feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that’s rapidly changing.

Let me speak directly to you.

Updated

From when he was a presidential candidate, Biden has pitched his climate change policies as a job creation plan.

“When I think about climate change, I think jobs,” he said.

Touting his jobs plan, he listed green jobs:

Electrical workers installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways.

Farmers planting cover crops, so they can reduce carbon dioxide in the air and get paid for doing it.

There’s no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.

Updated

Today’s message: “Jobs, jobs, jobs”

At each step, Biden is explaining that his plans – to improve water infrastructure, to increase internet access, to address climate change – will all create jobs.

“The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy efficient buildings and homes,” Biden said. “The American Jobs Plan will help millions of people get back to their jobs and their careers.”

Updated

Biden: ‘Go and get vaccinated’

“I can say because of you – the American people – our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history has been one of the greatest logistical achievements this country has ever seen,” Biden said.

Within his first 100 days, the US will have delivered about 220m vaccine doses – far surpassing Biden’s initial promise of 100m doses by that deadline.

“Everyone is now eligible to get vaccinated,” he said. “Right now, right away, go get vaccinated, America.”

Vaccine hesitancy among Americans is now one of the biggest public health challenges the US is facing as it aims to end the pandemic. All the people who most desperately wanted the vaccine were able to get them – and many of the unvaccinated are weary.

Updated

“America is on the move again,” Biden said – after acknowledging what a tough year it has been.

“We all know, life could knock us down,” he said. “But in America, we never, ever, ever stay down. Americans always get up; today, that’s what we’re doing.”

His address to lawmakers who are both physically distanced – and perhaps more ideologically divided than any other time in recent history – looks and feels different. But he’s striking an optimistic tone – selling his accomplishments through his first 100 days in office, and a sense of hope.

Updated

Acknowledging Kamala Harris, stood behind him, as “Madam vice-president” Biden reflected: “No president has ever said these words from behind this podium – and it’s about time.”

Here is the moment:

Biden takes the podium
Biden takes the podium.
Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Updated

Joe Biden has arrived

The president, masked up, was greeted with claps and elbow bumps – as he took the stage at his first address to a joint session, amid a pandemic.

There’s no “designated survivor” tonight.

Usually, when the president speaks at a joint session of Congress, all members of the presidential cabinet attend. Tonight, due to coronavirus phsyical distancing protocols, many members of the cabinet aren’t there.

“There does not need to be a designated survivor because the cabinet will be watching from their offices or home, but they will not be joining him for the speech,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.

Updated

There are far fewer people in the chamber today than usual, due to coronavirus restrictions.

The sparse, masked attendees will each have to be doubly aware of their reactions during the speech. TV cameras will now even more easily than usual capture lawmakers’ reactions during such addresses – since there’s no hiding in this crowd.

Republican John Thune tells CNN’s Manu Raju that’s something he and others are acutely aware of this evening:

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In 2007 Nancy Pelosi was the first woman to sit behind the president during a joint address to Congress, after becoming the first leader of the House a year earlier.

Fourteen years later she’s made history again thanks to vice president Kamala Harris being by her side. It’s the first time two women have sat where they are during such a speech.

Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris wave to colleagues while they wait for Joe Biden to arrive
Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris wave to colleagues while they wait for Joe Biden to arrive
Photograph: Doug Mills/AFP/Getty Images

Why this address is not a “state of the union”

Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress is technically not a “state of the union” – it’s an “annual message”.

It’s a tradition, since Ronald Regan’s term, that presidents don’t deliver a “state of the union” in the years they take and leave office. The idea is that they can’t speak broadly about the state of the union when they’ve only been on the job a few weeks – or right when they’re about to exit power.

Usually, a president would deliver their first address in January or February – but this year’s speech was delayed due to the pandemic.

Members of Congress, Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi have filtered into the chamber.

For the first time, the president will be flanked by two women as Biden delivers his address. Traditionally, the vice president and House speaker – the two figures who follow the president in the line of command – sit behind the president during such addresses.

Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi take their positions.
Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi take their positions.
Photograph: Doug Mills/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Congress await Joe Biden’s address to a joint session.
Members of Congress await Joe Biden’s address to a joint session.
Photograph: Doug Mills/AP

This is a presidential address to Congress like no other on a hot Washington evening.

On my way in, Capitol Hill was dotted with police and soldiers in military fatigues, a group of picnickers, a jogger or two, and a few congressional staff heading home. Some high-security fencing was a lingering reminder of the deadly 6 January insurrection.

I went to a congressional office building, passed through an airport-style metal detector, walked a couple of empty corridors, took a lift down to the basement, then showed proof of a coronavirus test taken on Monday. I was given a wristband and ticket, passed through another metal detector and walked through an underground tunnel to the House of Representatives.

The House press gallery, usually teeming with so many reporters that desk space is hard to come by, is much quieter and low-key tonight and everyone is masked.

Instead of the usual 1,600 people in the House chamber for a state of the union-style address, this time there only be 200 with no guests permitted (except virtually), because of coronavirus safety restrictions. Some tickets were decided on a first-come-first-served basis, others by lottery. Chief justice John Roberts will be the only member of the supreme court present.

There is also no need for a “designated survivor” this time. This is a senior official who typically stays away at a secure location in case catastrophe strikes the House and wipes out the president, vice president and cabinet.

Soon we will file into the House chamber, where guns were drawn to defend members from the mob on 6 January. As at his inauguration, Biden will be speaking both to those watching at home and those watching (and applauding) in person: he has become adept at speaking intimately to the TV camera, but now he must also command a cavernous room.

My high vantage point will allow me some great people-watching in the chamber but will deny me a view of the historic tableau of two women – Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi – sitting behind Biden. The replays on TV will have to do.

What’s ahead

Welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of Joe Biden’s first joint address to Congress!

I’ll be bringing you live updates and factchecks. Here’s a recap of what we’re expecting:

  • In a preview of his speech, Biden touts accomplishments from his first 100 days in office. He also plans to directly appeal to working-class voters – selling his economic recovery proposals and their potential to create jobs and boost an economy ravaged by the coronavirus crisis.
  • Tim Scott, a senator of South Carolina, will have the tough job of defending Republicans’ record, more than a year into the pandemic that has left more than half a million dead. With Biden’s spending proposals gaining wide popularity among Republicans and Democrats, Republican lawmakers have been scrambling to pin down their messaging on why they oppose the presidents’ plans.
  • New York representative Jamaal Bowman will deliver the progressive response Biden’s speech. Although progressives have celebrated the Biden administration’s adoption of major healthcare and education policies they have touted for years, they’re pushing the president to take on even more ambitious reforms.
  • Biden’s speech comes nearly four months after insurrectionists attacked the US capitol. He will speak amid high security around DC.
  • For the first time, two women will be flanking the president during his address. The speaker of the House and the vice-president are usually the two figures who sit behind the president during such addresses. This year, that’s Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris.

Updated

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