“America Is Rising Anew”: In Congressional Address, Biden Makes the Case for His Ambitious Agenda—and Democracy Itself

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    “America Is Rising Anew”: In Congressional Address, Biden Makes the Case for His Ambitious Agenda—and Democracy Itself

    Delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden on Wednesday evening touted his administration’s accomplishments on the pandemic and the economy in his first hundred days in office, outlined ambitious plans to address climate change, racial inequality, and other major issues, and called on the country to recommit itself to democratic values that have been under threat since the political rise of his predecessor, Donald Trump. “The insurrection was an existential crisis—a test of whether our democracy could survive,” Biden said. “And it did. But the question is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent.”

    “We have to prove democracy still works,” Biden said, describing the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol as “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” 

    Biden struck similar themes to his rousing inauguration speech, describing the country as being at a crossroads of “crisis and opportunity”—poised to emerge from overlapping emergencies set to win the future. “After just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden said. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”

    It was classic Biden, grounded in empathy. “There’s still more work to do to beat this virus,” he said, describing poignant scenes of parents seeing smiles on their kids faces as they get on school buses and grandparents hugging grandchildren “instead of pressing their hands against a window” as more than 200 million shots and counting went into arms over the past three months. “But tonight, I can say because of you—the American people — our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history is one of the greatest logistical achievements our country has ever seen.” But the speech also showcased the progressive ambition of his agenda, arguing both for specific plans—including the American Families Plan he introduced Wednesday to improve education, child care, and parental leave—and more broadly for a commitment to “real justice” and “real opportunities” for all, both at home and abroad. He touted his American Jobs Plan as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself.” “There is nothing—nothing beyond our capacity—nothing we can’t do—if we do it together,” Biden said.

    In two of the most powerful segments of his speech, Biden renewed his pushes to address systemic racism after the Derek Chauvin conviction and to reform the nation’s gun laws in the wake of more mass shootings, telling lawmakers that the American public supports changes. “The country supports this reform,” Biden said. “Congress should act.”

    The speech—the first joint address delivered in front of a female vice president and a female House Speaker in Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi—was given before a sparse, socially-distanced audience due to the pandemic, and marked a stark contrast from those of Trump; in his last State of the Union address, delivered in February 2020, just before the COVID crisis exploded in the U.S., Trump was a torrent of false claims and partisan indignation, and at one point announced he would award Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Biden didn’t pull punches in comments about the last administration and Republicans, many of whom still refuse to let go of Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud; at one point, he directly called on the other side of the aisle to “join with the overwhelming majority” of Democrats in actually working to find solutions on gun violence. But he was characteristically civil as he did so, emphasizing the need for unity in addressing the country’s challenges. “One hundred days ago, America’s house was on fire,” Biden said. “We had to act. And thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Speaker Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer]—and the overwhelming support of the American people: Democrats, Independents, and Republicans—we did act.”

    Biden has, indeed, racked up significant accomplishments in the opening months of his presidency; improving the vaccine rollout to help bring the public health crisis and its economic side effects more under control is perhaps chief among them, despite efforts by Republicans to rewrite history and claim the improved pandemic outlook as a Trump achievement. And while the GOP is likely to put up significant roadblocks to much of his agenda, there are likely more areas he can make progress on, either through executive action or via his party’s narrow majority on Capitol Hill. But the answer to the question he posed about the security of American democracy? That’s a little less certain, thanks to the extremist GOP. Biden is choosing to be optimistic, choosing “light over darkness.” 

    “We all know life can 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. America is rising anew.”

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    Published at Thu, 29 Apr 2021 02:58:50 +0000

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