— Washington, DC — A few minutes past 9pm in Washington, DC, US President Joe Biden entered the chamber of the US House of Representatives to make his argument that that the United States is getting back on track, but also that now is the time to get together to bring equity and opportunity to all Americans.
Only 200 people were allowed in the House chamber to see the speech first hand due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions. That included Chief Justice John Roberts as well as just two members of the Biden cabinet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“America is on the move again.” Said President Biden to a smattering of applause, “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”
Even as President Biden enumerated wide-ranging reform proposals to support families with child and elder care to make America “ready for takeoff,” the Republicans tried to redirect the credit to former President Donald Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, “he will raise your taxes, period.”
Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) went further in his speech rebutting the president, saying Americans are starving for more than platitudes, “Just before Covid, we had the most inclusive economy in my lifetime. The lowest unemployment ever recorded for African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans. The lowest for women in nearly 70 years. Wages were growing faster for the bottom 25% than the top 25%. That happened because Republicans focused on expanding opportunity for all Americans.”
President Biden believes that it’s okay to be a millionaire or even a billionaire, but he also said, “It’s time for corporate America and America’s wealthiest one percent to pay their fair share.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents many major American corporations, rejected the claims of fairness and fiscal responsibility out of hand, “Now, the administration is pursuing the biggest tax hike in 30 years to fund an ambitious agenda to massively expand the role and reach of government paid for by American job creators.”
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark) was blunt: “President Biden promised the nation higher taxes, crushing debt, and open borders. His radical agenda is dead on arrival.”
Ahead of the much anticipated speech, what President Biden is not saying or doing was equally important to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) “President Biden is not constantly stoking division, outrage, racial animus. He doesn’t fan the flames of every single culture war. He doesn’t seek to personally dominate every single news cycle. He doesn’t insult, degrade, or constantly lie.”
In contrast, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused President Biden of providing “catnip for their liberal base, covered with a hefty coat of false advertising.”
The most powerful Senate Republican urged his former Senate colleague to change course.
“This White House can shake off its daydreams of a sweeping socialist legacy that will never happen in the United States of America,” McConnell said in a statement earlier in the day, reviewing the Biden administration’s first hundred days.
“They can recommit to solving our nation’s actual problems,” McConnell went on to say, “to fostering consensus instead of deepening our divides.”
“That,” McConnell continued, “is what the American people want and deserve.”
The Republican Party, however, is facing stiff criticism about whether they are making any concerted public argument on critical issues.
Paul Suderman of Reason magazine argued in the New York Times that there’s a deeper problem: the Republican Party, “no longer has a cognizable theory of government.” The deeper problem for Ross Douthat, a Catholic conservative also writing in the New York Times is, “having to do with what conservatism under a liberal order exists to actually conserve.”
For Joe Biden, who served in the U.S. Senate for 37 years and as Barack Obama’s Vice President for 8 years, it was a moment that was both historic and different. In opening, he acknowledged the historic moment, with two women, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Vice President Kamala Harris sitting behind on the dais.
In his hour-long speech, Joe Biden applauded Senator Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) and her colleagues for a counteroffer on the infrastructure bill. “I welcome those ideas,” Biden said, “but the rest of the world isn’t waiting for us. I just want to be clear: From my perspective, doing nothing is not an option.”
Ahead of the speech, in a lunch with well-known American journalists, President Biden acknowledged that he knows the world is watching and asking whether Americans and American democracy can get anything done.
He expanded on that theme in his appeal directly to the American people: “ We have to prove democracy still works. That our government still works—and can deliver for the people. In our first 100 days together, we have acted to restore the people’s faith in our democracy to deliver.”
Lobbying and policy groups, such as the America First Policy Institute, claim that over the past 100 days, the U.S. government has been busy “putting the central planners and the elites and the academic institutions and the media first, rather than putting you, the American people first.”
Protestant theologian Diana Butler-Bass tweeted, “This is a solid speech, down-to-earth ideas and language, and practical hope for a better future.” Biden’s support for a “progressive” social agenda is already contentious. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will reportedly consider — at their upcoming June meeting — whether to send a stern message to the president: “Don’t receive Communion if you persist in public advocacy of abortion rights.”
Catholics — including Catholic bishops — are divided over how best to address the President’s positions and efforts in these and other regards.
Biden’s support of abortion has put him afoul of Catholic Church teaching.
“America is rising anew,” Biden said, “choosing hope over fear. Truth over lies. Light over darkness,” words that featured prominently in the final push of the 2020 presidential election campaign.
This is our moment to choose:
Hope over fear.
Unity over division.
Science over fiction.
Truth over lies.
Those words also contrasted sharply with the speeches Donald Trump gave as the 45th President of the United States. Biden insisted that America is an idea, that we are all created equal and equally deserving of justice. “Now is our opportunity to make real progress — to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”
Urging Americans to come together to heal the soul of the nation, he flatly said that white supremacy is terrorism. Biden also said that controversial legislation, which proponents claim is designed to protect women and LGBTQ Americans, curb gun violence, and reform police culture, should be passed.
Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) rebutted the president with his own prayer, “Original sin is never the end of the story. Not in our souls, and not for our nation. The real story is always redemption.” The senator quoted Numbers 6: 24-26, reading the lyrics to the classic hymn, “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”
The events of January 6, when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol complex, were not far from anyone’s mind. The speech was considered a national security event, with extra National Guard called out to support the city and Capitol Hill police. Just over 90 minutes before the President’s speech began, the U.S. Capitol Police arrested a man in a green space known as the Upper Senate Park after he refused to leave the restricted space.