“The Future Belongs to America… Doing Nothing is Not an Option” April 30, 2021
April 28, 2021. One day short of President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office. On 4/28/2021, President Biden delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress. In this speech, Biden and previous U.S. Presidents normally lay out their plans for their first year in office. In recent times, it has been customary not to call this first prime-time major address by a new American President a State of the Union speech, but to use the “first speech to a joint session of Congress” label (See latimes.com, Logan, E., 4/28/210).”
Despite such a plain title, this speech sets the tone for future State of the Union messages a President will give. If successful, this joint session speech explains the POTUS’ (President of the United States’) overarching themes for the next four years. In his one hour and five minutes plain-spoken address, (CNN broadcast) in which he showed a strong feeling for his fellow Americans’ hopes and concerns, President Biden gave one of the easiest to follow explanations of what he has already done and what he hopes to do this year. Yes, the scene looked familiar, the large House Chamber. However, the optics were quite different from previous first term joint addresses. Because we are still facing a COVID-19 pandemic, the usual 1,400 guests were not invited by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). About 200 people were present. On the advice of the attending physician to Congress, few of the 535 House and Senate members were invited. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin represented the Cabinet. Chief Justice John Roberts was the only Supreme Ct. member present (CNN broadcast, latimes.com, Logan). Invitees wore masks and sat socially distant from each other (CNN). Analysts reminded us that this House Chamber, where members conduct routine speeches and cast vote after vote, was the scene over three months ago of the horrific attack by rioters attempting to overthrow Biden’s legitimate election and our democratic government (CNN). When President Biden started his speech, there was another difference. Sitting behind him were House Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first time two women had sat on the dais during a Congressional joint speech (Logan, latimes.com, 4/28/10). Biden turned around and declared, “Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President.” He added, “No president has ever said those words from this podium. No president has ever said those words. And it’s about time (CNN 4/28/21 broadcast).” It sure is.
Biden noted that when he was sworn in on 1/20/2021, only 1% of the senior citizens, the group hit hardest by COVID had had vaccinations. Today, 70% of the 65 and over senior group was fully vaccinated and more than one-half of Americans had had one COVID-19 shot. Biden stated that he had hoped to have 100 million shots given in his first 100 days. At this time, 200 million shots had been given to Americans and nearly everyone was quite close to vaccination centers. Again, Biden implored those who were not yet fully vaccinated to get their shots. Biden made sure to repeat to millions of American viewers the other achievements he had accomplished in this 100-day period. These included many getting $1,400 in rescue checks that have kept businesses afloat and people from being evicted. In addition to the $1,400 checks in the COVID stimulus bill that he already passed, Biden noted that this legislation sharply reduced hunger, increased loans for small businesses, and enabled 800,000 people to enroll in Obamacare. This legislation Biden pushed through Congress cut child poverty in half this year. Biden added that in his first 100 days, 1,300,000 new jobs were created more than any President on record ever did in such a short time (CNN broadcast).
Biden, in clear simple terms, made a strong pitch for his next major pieces of legislation—his Job Investment bill and American Families Act. He devoted most of his address to explaining why the jobs bill must be passed. He rightfully called it an investment in our future to help us compete against autocratic regimes like China that are hoping to see us fall behind them. Biden called this American Jobs Plan the largest since WWII. He argued that America is “moving forward and can’t stop now.” He took on GOP complaints about this proposed legislation dealing with aiding people with home care. He stated that 800,000 Americans will be helped by such a bill. Biden gave a strong pitch to blue collar and rural America, many of the people who had voted for Trump, because they felt, in part, that they were being left behind. He told them that this Jobs Act is an 8-year program and the jobs in it can not be outsourced. Ninety percent of them don’t need college degrees and these blue- collar jobs will build the American middle class. He called these jobs “good-paying jobs.” He stated that when we talk of attacking climate change, we must repeatedly use the word “jobs.” He said that there was no reason that blades for turbines could not be built in Pittsburgh, rather than Beijing. Biden called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and helping labor unions recruit more members, which he argued was part of growing the middle class (CNN broadcast, 4/28/21). In his American Families Act proposal, Biden stated that two years of free pre-school and two years of free community college must be added, along with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave (CNN broadcast).
Biden stated that health care must be seen as a right, not a privilege, and “needled” (no vaccination pun intended) the GOPers for yelling about premium increases in health plans, when his stimulus bill made premiums under Obamacare go down (CNN broadcast). Biden said that the price of his proposed Jobs Act legislation will be payable with a 31.6% tax on the top 1% and that no additional taxes will be put on people earning less than $400,000. Corporations, including many who paid nothing in taxes and received huge amounts of money in Trump’s 1997 1% tax cut, will have to pay their fair share. Only .3 of 1% of people will be affected by such a tax. Biden took on GOPers screaming about not taxing the top 1%. He told the public to ask them, “If you don’t raise taxes on the top 1%, who do you have to raise it on? (CNN broadcast). Translation: The middle class. He attacked GOP “trickle down” economics as never having worked. Biden rightly said, “You grow the economy from the bottom down and out.” Biden spoke of the “future belonging to America and that doing nothing is not an option.”
Biden noted that “America is on the move again and when the U.S. was punched down, it got itself up.” He stated we were now at an “inflection point” in our history. He said that other countries are happy to hear that we are “back” with them, but wanted to know (after the Trump period) for how long. Biden declared we must be “here to stay” in the world and at home. He told of how he stood up to China on human rights and responded to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin with sanctions for meddling in our elections and hacking our infrastructure. Biden, once again, announced, to great applause, his intent to withdraw from Afghanistan on 9/11/2021. He called for “healing the soul of our nation.” He declared white supremacy is terrorism. He pushed for police reform in a bill named after the late African American victim George Floyd. Biden emphasized passing bills to support voting rights. He told the House to join the Senate in passing a bill protecting Asian Americans against hate crimes. He argued for more LGBTQ protections (CNN broadcast, 4/28/21).
Biden ended his strong address with the words that “the future belongs to America.” Biden stated that “we saw our country stare into the abyss with an attempted coup and a horrible pandemic.” President Biden added that “we did not fail and he has, therefore, never been more confident in us.” Biden declared “it is never a good bet to bet against America, if we begin to get together (CNN 4/28/21 broadcast).” Exactly. America will not fail if “we the people,” all of us pull together.
For this major address, Biden spent hours debating its themes and language and constantly revising drafts and rehearsing this speech (cnn.com, Liptak & Collins, 4/27/21). While longtime aide Mike Donilon helped craft this message, Biden’s chief speechwriter helping to make this speech simple and clear for the American people was Vinay Reddy (cnn.com, Liptak & Collins).
Raised in Dayton, Ohio, Vinay Reddy is the son of immigrants from India. Reddy received his Bachelor’s degree from Miami University and a law degree from Ohio State University Moritz College of Law (indiatvnews.com, Rashi, H., 12/22/20). Reddy was a speechwriter for progressive Democratic OH Senator Sherrod Brown (Hinman, K, washingtonian .com, 10/26/20). From 2013-2017, Reddy was then VP Biden’s chief speech writer during Obama’s second presidential term. Reddy was additionally a senior speechwriter for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (indiatvnews.com, 12/22/20). After Obama left office, Reddy worked as the vice president of strategic communications for the NBA, National Basketball Association (aninews.in, 12/22/20). During the 2020 presidential campaign, Reddy served as a senior advisor and speechwriter for Biden and worked for Biden as a speechwriter during the presidential transition. On 12/22/2020, Biden designated Reddy as the incoming White House Director of Speechwriting (aninews.in, 12/22/20). That office is responsible for preparing the content of Biden’s presidential speeches. Although Mike Donilon and presidential historian/biographer Jon Meacham were in charge of reviewing the content and working on Biden’s 1/20/2021 inaugural address, Reddy played a major role in writing that well-received speech. Reddy is the first-ever Indian-American to become a U.S. presidential speechwriter (cnbctv.18, 1/20/21).
According to a CNN Poll taken from 4/21-26/2021, 53% of Americans approve of the way Biden is handling the job and say he has the right priorities. Fifty-nine percent say President Biden is doing a good job keeping his promises. Remember, Demagogue Donald never cracked the 50% approval rating in his four years (See cnn.com, Agiesta, J., 4/28/21). Most political pundits, short of former GOP Sen. McConnell advisor Scott Jennings, gave Biden “A” or near “A” grades for his joint congressional address (cnn.com, 4/28/21). More than 70% of viewers stated Biden’s congressional address made them feel more optimistic about the U.S. Eighty-five percent of people in a CBS News Poll approved of his speech. However, polling results are often short lived. The true battle will occur in getting the House with a very small Democratic majority and the evenly split Senate to approve Biden’s jobs plan and aid for families. Count on “fake” Fox News to ceaselessly condemn Biden’s agenda. And among the 50 Democrats, W. VA’s Joe Manchin is still complaining that Biden needs GOPers to join him to push this bill through and not go the reconciliation 51 vote route. He also is arguing, similarly to GOPers, that we have already spent enough on COVID relief and things are getting better on their own. He must be pressed by fellow Democrats, moderates, and independents throughout the country to understand that we can’t sit back and do nothing. We can’t fall into the GOP trap of endlessly negotiating with them for crumbs of financial relief that they will ultimately vote against. In order to pass voting rights protection, gun control, the George Floyd police reform bill, and immigration reform, the filibuster will have to be weakened. Politics is a never-ending battle. The GOP knows this, and we too must understand this. President Biden is off to a great start. We must make sure that he continues to succeed.