Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Melina Mara/PA
100 Days

'America is ready for takeoff': Joe Biden declares new dawn for US in first address to Congress

It was one of the most watched moments of Biden’s presidency.

US PRESIDENT JOE Biden declared in his first address to a joint session of Congress that “America is rising anew” on the verge of overcoming the historic pandemic.

Looking to the future, he urged a $1.8 trillion dollar (€1.48 trillion) investment in children, families and education that would fundamentally transform roles the government plays in American life.

Biden marked his first 100 days in office as the nation emerges from a mix of crises, making his case before a pared-down gathering of mask-wearing legislators because of pandemic restrictions.

The speech took place in a setting unlike any other presidential address in the US Capitol, surrounded by fencing after insurrectionists protesting his election in January stormed to the doors of the House chamber where he gave his address.

The nationally televised ritual of a president standing before Congress for the first time was one of the most watched moments of Biden’s presidency, raising the stakes for his ability to sell his plans to voters of both parties, even if Republican politicians prove resistant.

“America is ready for takeoff. We are working again. Dreaming again. Discovering again. Leading the world again. We have shown each other and the world: There is no quit in America,” he said.

“100 days ago, America’s house was on fire. We had to act.”

This year’s scene at the front of the House chamber had a historic look: for the first time, a female vice president, Kamala Harris, was seated behind the chief executive. And she was next to another woman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The first ovation came as Biden greeted “madam vice president”.

He added: “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”

biden-100-days-congress Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer stands and applauds as Biden speaks Melina Mara / PA Melina Mara / PA / PA

The entire House setting was unlike any of Biden’s predecessors, with members of Congress spread out, a sole Supreme Court justice in attendance and many Republicans citing “scheduling conflicts” to stay away.

There was no need for a “designated survivor”, with so many Cabinet members not there, and the chamber was so sparsely populated that individual claps could be heard echoing off the walls.

Restoring jobs

Biden constantly repeated how his plans would put Americans back to work, restoring the millions of jobs lost to Covid-19.

He laid out a sweeping proposal for universal preschool, two years of free community college, $225 billion (€186 billion) for child care and monthly payments of at least $250 dollars (€206) to parents.

His ideas target frailties that were uncovered by the pandemic, and he argues that that economic growth will best come from taxing the rich to help the middle class and the poor.

“I can report to the nation: America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength,” he said.

The president’s speech also gave an update on the Covid-19 crisis, and he highlighted how hundreds of millions of vaccinations and relief checks delivered to help offset the devastation wrought by a virus that has killed more than 573,000 people in the country.

He also championed his $2.3 trillion dollar (€1.9 trillion) infrastructure plan, a staggering figure to be financed by higher taxes on corporations.

However, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said in the Republicans’ designated response that Biden was claiming too much credit.

“This administration inherited a tide that had already turned,” Scott said. “The coronavirus is on the run.”

Biden spoke against a backdrop of the weakening but still lethal pandemic, staggering unemployment and an ongoing debate about police violence against black people.

He also used his address to touch on the broader national reckoning over race in America and called on Congress to act on prescription drug pricing, gun control and modernising the nation’s immigration system.

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