By Terrance Turner
April 28, 2021
Tonight, President Joe Biden addressed Congress in his first speech to them as president. The speech covered a wide range of topics, reflecting the plethora of pressing issues facing Americans: COVID-19, immigration, LGBTQ equality, race and policing. Tonight, in succinct, sweeping prose, Biden outlined what he aims to do on these and other topics. Some highlights are detailed below.
Biden began his speech by greeting Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then noting the historic nature of having two women seated behind him. “Madam speaker, madam vice president,” Biden said. “No president has ever said those words from this podium. And it’s about time.”
“One hundred days since I took the oath of office and lifted my hand off our family bible and inherited a nation — we all did — that was in crisis,” Biden said. “The worst pandemic in a century, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again.”
Biden boasted about the economic record of his tenure so far, making the dubious claim that his administration has created, “more jobs than the first 100 days than any president on record.”Biden also discussed the economic benefits of his $1.9 trillion dollar COVID-19 relief bill. “And, maybe most importantly, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we are on track to cut child poverty in America in half this year.”
President Biden also addressed climate change. According to ABC News, he chose to emphasize what he felt was a long-neglected buzzword. “For too long, we failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis: jobs. Jobs. Jobs,” Biden said to a round of applause. Both are a centerpiece of his mammoth infrastructure plan, which he is trying to get passed through Congress.
But Biden also addressed American health. He grew emotional as he talked about the need to fight diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes. He mentioned former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who once proposed naming cancer legislation after Biden’s late son Beau. (Veteran Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.) “I know of nothing that is more bipartisan, so let’s end cancer as we know it,” Biden said. “It is within our power. It’s within our power to do it.” He also urged Congress to help lower prescription drug prices and deductibles for the Affordable Care Act.
Also on the agenda: establishing a $15 minimum wage. “No one, no one working 40 hours a week, no one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line,” Biden declared. “We know how to do this. The last president had that as an objective,” he said.
He also spoke about bipartisanship. “I like to meet with those who have ideas that are different, that they think are better,” Biden said. “I welcome those ideas. But the rest of the world is not waiting for us. I just want to be clear, from my perspective, doing nothing is not an option.”
Which is exactly what he feels Congress has done on immigration. Biden lamented that politicians have been talking about immigration for decades without doing anything about it. He urged Congress to provide bipartisan support for an immigration bill. “If you believe that we need to secure the border, pass it, because it has a lot of money for high-tech border security. If you believe in a pathway to citizenship, pass it,” he said. Biden also spoke of the need for legislation to protect DREAMers, those brought to America as children who now face deportation. (The Supreme Court upheld DACA, an Obama-era program to protect Dreamers, in a landmark case last year.)
“Look, if you don’t like my plan, let’s at least pass what we all agree on. Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for dreamers.The [ones] who have only known America as their home, and permanent protection for immigrants who are here on temporary protective status who came from countries beset by manmade and natural made violence and disasters. As well as a pathway to citizenship for farm workers that put food on our tables.
Look, immigrants have done so much for America during this pandemic and throughout our history. The country supports immigration reform. We should act. Let’s argue over it. Let’s debate it. But let’s act.”
The president thanked the Senate for passing an anti-Asian hate crimes act that passed almost universally. “I want to thank the Senate for voting 94-1 to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, to protect Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders,” he said, to applause. But he also asked Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Americans. “For all transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people who are so brave, I want you to know your President has your back,” the president said.
Another legislative item is the Violence Against Women Act, which Biden himself wrote in the 1990s. “The act that has to be authorized now will close the ‘boyfriend loophole’ to keep guns out of the hands of abusers. The court order said: this is an abuser, you can’t own a gun. It’s to close that loophole that existed,” Biden explained. “You know, it’s estimated that 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month in America. 50 a month. Let’s pass it and save some lives.”
While on the topic of shootings, Biden turned to gun violence. “I need not tell anyone this, but gun violence has become an epidemic in America. A flag at the White House was still flying at half mast for the eight victims of the mass shooting in Georgia, when 10 more lives were taken in a mass shooting in Colorado. And in the week in between those two events, 250 other Americans were shot dead in the streets of America. 250, shot dead.”
“I know how hard it is to make progress on this issue. In the 90s we passed universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines that hold 100 rounds that could be fired off in seconds. We beat the NRA. Mass shootings and gun violence declined. Check out the report, over 10 years.
But in the early 2000s, the law expired. We’ve seen daily bloodshed since,” Biden said.”I’m not saying if the law continued, we wouldn’t see bloodshed,” he admitted. But, he cautioned, there are a number of things that must be done. “One of them is banning so-called ‘ghost guns.’ These are homemade guns built from a kit that includes directions on how to finish the firearm.
The parts have no serial numbers, so they show up at crime scenes and they can’t be traced. The buyers of these ‘ghost gun’ kits aren’t required to pass any background check. Anyone, from a criminal or a terrorist, could buy this kit, and within 30 minutes have a weapon that’s lethal.”
“But no more,” Biden vowed. “I’ll do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence, but it’s time for Congress to act as well.”
President Biden also addressed race and policing — specifically the case of George Floyd. “My fellow Americans, look, we have to come together to heal the soul of this nation. It was nearly a year ago, before her father’s funeral, when I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. She’s a little tyke, so I was kneeling down to talk to her so I could look her in the eye. She looked at me, she said, ‘My daddy changed the world.’
“Well, after the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, we can see how right she was, if — if we have the courage to act as a Congress. We’ve all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans. Now is our opportunity to make some real progress. The vast majority of men and women wearing a uniform and a badge serve our communities and they serve them honorably. I know them. I know they want–“
Biden was interrupted by applause. Even Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) stood to applaud.
“As I stand here tonight before you in a new and vital hour of life and democracy for our nation,” Biden concluded, “I can say with absolute confidence, I have never been more confident or optimistic about America — not because I am President, because what’s happening with the American people.
We’ve stared into the abyss of insurrection and autocracy, pandemic and pain, and we the people did not flinch. At the very moment our adversaries were certain we’d pull apart and fail, we came together, we united. With light and hope, we summoned a new strength, new resolve to position us to win the competition of the 21st century.
On our way to a union more perfect, more prosperous and more just, as one people, one nation and one America.”