In his first joint address to Congress, President Joe Biden delivered an hour-long speech calling on the nation’s lawmakers to enact an ambitious domestic and foreign agenda.
“Tonight, I come to talk about crisis and opportunity. About rebuilding the nation, revitalizing our democracy and winning the future for Americans,” Biden said in the State of the Union speech on his 100th day in office.
With Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi behind him representing their respective chambers, Biden centered much of his speech on a laundry list of issues ranging from infrastructure to climate change to healthcare, education and gun reform. On many of those issues, he said they would translate into jobs for American workers.
“For me, when I think climate change, I think jobs,” Biden said. “The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy efficient buildings and homes. Electrical workers, workers installing charging stations along our highways so we can own the electric car market. Farmers planting cover crops so they can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and get paid for doing it.
“This is a blue-collar blueprint to build America,” he added, calling on Congress to lift the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
To fund a big portion of his domestic agenda, Biden has proposed raising the income tax on the nation’s wealthiest citizens to 39.6%, adding taxes on investments, and closing corporate loopholes.
“I think you should be able to become a billionaire or millionaire. But pay your fair share,” he said. “I will not impose any tax increase on anyone making less than $400,000, but it’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% to begin to pay their fair share. Just their fair share.”
Biden also spelled out positions on several notable foreign policy issues. He discussed withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by September, resetting relations with Russia, and redefining paths of cooperation and conflict with China. Biden specifically mentioned his conversations with Chinese President Xi.
“He is deadly earnest about becoming the most significant and consequential nation in the world,” Biden said. “He and others, autocrats, think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies. It takes too long to get consensus.”
While Biden has called for bipartisanship, he’s been criticized by Republicans for not going far enough with the effort. In his joint speech, the president offered a number of olive branches to work with GOP members of Congress.
“As I stand here tonight before you in a new and vital hour of life and democracy in our nation, I can say with absolute confidence, I have never been more confident or optimistic about America. Not because I am president. Because of what is 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. The very moment our adversaries were certain we would pull apart and fail, we came together and we united,” Biden said.
Other notes from the speech include:
- Biden said over 220 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the first 100 days of his presidency.
- He called on more investment in health care research. “Let’s end cancer as we know it. It is within our power to do it.”
- On immigration, Biden called for a path to citizenship for Dreamers and asked for passage of immigration reform where Republicans and Democrats agree, such as border security. “Let’s end our exhausting war with immigration.”
- Biden asked Congress to pass universal background checks for guns, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. “I know how hard it is to make progress on this issue.”
- He outlined two years of free community college as part of his American Families Plan to support re-skilling workers.
- He said white supremacy is the biggest domestic terror threat, a notion reinforced by a number of government law enforcement groups.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, gave the GOP response to the President’s State of the Union speech.
Scott criticized Biden for not doing more on the bipartisan front. He said the policies enacted since Biden took office have been too lopsided.
“Our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes,” Scott said. “We need policies and progress that brings us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart.”
Scott drew on his personal story of growing up as an African-American in the deep South. He said he experienced discrimination in his youth and still confronts bigotry today. However, he made the declaration that the United States is not “a racist country.”
“Nowhere do we need common ground more desperately than our discussion of race,” Scott said. “I have experienced the pain of discrimination. I know what it feels like to be pulled over for no reason, to be followed around the store when I am shopping.”
“Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country,” he added. “It’s backward to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination, and it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
Arkansas’ Congressional delegation was quick to respond to the President’s joint address. Here are excerpts from several of the state’s members:
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
“President Biden claimed to be a consensus builder, but beyond getting his party to agree to his far-left proposals, he’s done little to unite Congress behind policies that bring our country together… President Biden’s first 100 days have not lived up to his rhetoric during the campaign and his own inaugural address. Instead of a unifying, pragmatic approach to governing, the Biden administration continues to roll out highly partisan policies and reject serious counter-offers made in an effort to find compromise.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
“Tonight, President Biden promised the nation higher taxes, crushing debt, and open borders. His radical agenda is dead on arrival.”
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock
“While President Biden preaches bipartisanship, the administration along with House and Senate Democrats have done little to put that into practice. From an excessive $1.9 trillion partisan and untargeted spending bill to the administration’s all-of-the-above ‘infrastructure’ vision, President Biden has shown his true colors – admitting that bipartisanship is a drag on his tax-and-spend, job-killing agenda… I encourage President Biden to practice what he preaches and work with Republicans on meaningful, bipartisan solutions to address the problems challenging our country and improve the quality of life of Arkansas families and small businesses just trying to support our community.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers
“In the last nearly 100 days, President Biden’s calls for ‘unity’ have stood in stark contrast with reality. Tonight’s speech was no different. It outlined proposals to massively expand the government and spend trillions more. He has ceded complete control to the far left, and they are mortgaging our children’s future with massive debt to finance their socialist agenda. You don’t recover from a pandemic by raising taxes, creating an immigration crisis, gutting jobs, eviscerating business opportunity, diminishing energy independence, and appeasing our adversaries. Package it however you like—their actions are nothing more than generational theft. We need the Administration to prioritize the American people, not the wants of radical progressives.”