Live: Joe Biden addresses joint session of US Congress

Sam Clench

Joe Biden will reportedly use his speech to Congress to argue for $US1.8 trillion in spending on some sweeping new measures, including universal preschool, two free years of community college, monthly payments of $250 to parents and $225 billion for child care services.

Whatever the merits of those policies, the most striking thing for Republicans will be the price tag, which comes on top of some already massive spending from the administration.

The President is also pushing for a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, and Congress already passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

For context, the stimulus plan passed under Barack Obama during the Global Financial crisis was worth less than a trillion.

Sam Clench

President Biden met with some TV news anchors earlier today, and made some candid comments on the record about the global contest between democracy and autocracy.

Here they are, courtesy of CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“I really believe – because I have spoken with over, I guess, 25-30 heds of state, including Putin, including Xi. I had a two hour conversation with Xi,” Mr Biden said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“And I’ve been convinced for a long time – I doubt whether most of you would agree with me, but I think they’re going to write about this point in history. Not about any of us in here, but about whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.

“Not a joke. Whether autocracy is the answer. They were my discussions and debates I’d have in the many times I met with Xi.”

Mr Biden often makes a point of mentioning how many times he met with Xi when he was Barack Obama’s vice president.

“Think about it,” he continued.

“You know, things are moving so damn rapidly. Things are changing so rapidly in the world, in science and technology and a whole range of other issues that – the question is, in a democracy that’s such a genius as ours, can you get consensus in the timeframe that can compete with autocracy?”

Shorter version: can a democracy be as effective as an autocracy at addressing problems quickly, when democratic government so often gets mired in gridlock? Autocrats like Xi and Putin would say no. Biden reckons the answer is yes – but history will ultimately be the judge.

Sam Clench

When Joe Biden is done speaking later, the Republican Party will issue its formal response. That job has been given to the party’s only African-American Senator, South Carolina’s Tim Scott.

We have a couple of excerpts from Mr Scott’s planned remarks.

“Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines. Thanks to our bipartisan work last year, job openings are rebounding,” he’ll say.

Operation Warp Speed, a Trump administration initiative, guaranteed billions of dollars to vaccine developers if they could come up with a safe and effective vaccine, allowing them to invest heavily in the cause. It certainly contributed to the speed with which vaccines got developed.

The “bipartisan work” Mr Scott mentions is likely a reference to COVID relief packages that passed with support form both sides in Congress.

“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,” he will also say.

This is pretty accurate. The national unemployment rate under Donald Trump reached its lowest point since the 1950s – before COVID hit, leading to more than 20 million jobs being lost.

Sam Clench

As Joe Biden speaks this evening, two women will be sitting behind him: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This is the first time there hasn’t been at least one man sitting in those seats, and Ms Pelosi acknowledged it during an appearance on MSNBC earlier today.

“It’s pretty exciting. And it’s wonderful to make history. It’s about time,” she said.

“I made history when I was the first (female) speaker to be standing behind President Bush, and he made note of that.

“Now this is just so exciting.”

That was a reference to 2007, when George W. Bush was president and Ms Pelosi was the first female speaker.

The last time a president addressed a joint session of Congress – Donald Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech – Ms Pelosi famously ripped up the text of his remarks on camera.

Don’t expect any such theatrics today. Everyone in the frame will be a Democrat.

Sam Clench

Welcome to the blog. We’re coming in off a long run-up today, Shoaib Akhtar style, with Joe Biden’s address still more than three hours away. Don’t worry though, there’ll be plenty to talk about in the meantime.

First up, the White House has released a few excerpts from the speech ahead of time. Here they are.

“As I stand here tonight, we are just one day shy of the 100th day of my administration,” Mr Biden will say.

“A hundred days since I took the oath of office – lifted my hand off our family Bible – and inherited a nation in crisis. 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, turning peril into possibility, crisis into opportunity, setback into strength.”

You will have spotted the obvious reference to the Capitol riot on January 6, where supporters of Mr Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump tried to halt the counting of the electoral votes from last year’s election.

Mr Trump would undoubtedly dispute Mr Biden’s characterisation of the pandemic and economy, saying the recovery was already underway when he left office.

In this next excerpt, Mr Biden addresses Americans who feel “left behind and forgotten” by a “rapidly changing” economy, flogging his job creation plan.

“Independent experts estimate the American Jobs Plan will add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in economic growth for years to come,” he’ll argue.

“These are good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. Nearly 90 per cent of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan don’t require a college degree.

“It’s a blue-collar blueprint to build America. And it recognises something I’ve always said: Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

Lastly, we have a more general assessment of the state of America.

“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.

“We’re vaccinating the nation. We’re creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. We’re delivering real results people can see and feel in their own lives. Opening the doors of opportunity. Guaranteeing fairness and justice.”

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