Sunday, September 19

America’s democracy ‘is making a comeback’, declares Biden in his first speech to Congress

US President Joe Biden declared Wednesday night that “America is resurgent” in his first speech to Congress.

He called for an expansion of federal programs to propel the economy beyond the pandemic and widely extend the social safety net on a scale not seen in decades.

Biden also optimistically pointed to the nation’s emergence from the scourge of coronavirus as a time for the United States to demonstrate that its democracy can still function and maintain primacy in the world.

Speaking in very personal terms while demanding massive structural changes, the president marked his first 100 days in office by proposing a $ 1.8 trillion (€ 1.48 trillion) investment in children, families and education to help rebuild an economy ravaged by the virus and compete with growth. global competitors.

His speech represented both a bold vision and a considerable gamble. He governs with the smallest majority in Congress, and even some members of his own party have paled at the price of his proposals.

At the same time, the speech highlighted Biden’s fundamental belief in the power of government as a force for good, even at a time when it is so often the object of contempt.

“I can inform the nation: America is on the move again,” he said. Turn danger into possibility. Opportunity crisis. Setback in force “.

While the ceremonial setting of the Capitol was the same as usual, the visual images did not resemble any previous presidential address. Members of Congress wore masks and sat apart due to pandemic restrictions. Outside, the grounds were still surrounded by fences after insurgents in January protesting Biden’s election stormed the doors of the House chamber where he delivered his speech.

The nationally televised ritual raised the stakes for his ability to sell his plans to voters of both parties, even if Republican lawmakers resist. The president is following the speech by hitting the road to push his plans forward, starting in Georgia on Thursday and then in Pennsylvania and Virginia in the coming days.

“The United States is ready to take off. We are working again. Dreaming again Discovering again. Leading the world again. We have shown each other and the world: You can’t quit in America, ”Biden said.

This year’s scene in front of the House chamber also had a historic look: For the first time, a vice president, Kamala Harris, was sitting behind the CEO. And he was next to another woman, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

The first standing ovation came when Biden greeted the “Madam Vice President.” He added: “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it was about time.”

The chamber was so sparsely populated that individual applause could be heard echoing off the walls.

However, Biden said: “I have never been more confident or optimistic about America. We have looked into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy, of pandemic and pain, and ‘We the People’ did not faze us. “

At times, the president clearly defended democracy itself.

Biden demanded that the government address its own as a powerful symbol to the world of an America willing to strongly follow its ideals and its people.

He faced a problem rarely faced by an American president, namely that in order to compete with autocracies like China, the nation needs to “prove that democracy still works” after his predecessor’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and the ensuing attack. to the US Capitol

“Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hatred and fears that have separated us?” I ask. America’s adversaries, the world’s autocrats, are betting it can’t. They think we are too full of anger, division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that stormed this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. You are wrong. And we have to prove them wrong. “

Biden repeatedly insisted that his plans would put Americans back to work, restoring the millions of jobs lost to the virus.

He submitted a broad proposal for universal preschool, two years of free community college, $ 225 billion (€ 185 billion) for child care, and monthly payments of at least $ 250 (€ 206) to parents. His ideas point to the weaknesses that were discovered by the pandemic, and he argues that economic growth will come better if the rich are taxed to help the middle class and the poor.

Biden’s speech also provided an update on fighting the COVID-19 crisis that he was chosen to tame, showing hundreds of millions of vaccines and relief checks handed out to help offset the devastation wrought by a virus that has killed more. than 573,000 people in the United States.

He also defended his $ 2.3 trillion (€ 1.9 trillion) infrastructure plan, a staggering amount that will be funded by higher corporate taxes.

Their appeals were often emotional and personal, and spoke of Americans in need of food and rent assistance. He also spoke to members of Congress as both a peer and a president, singling out Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans, to praise him and speak as one at a professional homecoming dance.

Members of the Republican Party in the chamber were largely silent, even refusing to applaud for seemingly universal goals like reducing child poverty. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said, in the Republican-designated response, that Biden was more rhetoric than action.

“Our president seems like a good man,” Scott said. “But our nation is starving for more than just empty platitudes.”

The president spoke against a backdrop of a weak but still deadly pandemic, staggering unemployment and a turbulent debate about police violence against blacks. He also used his speech to address the broader national reckoning on race in America, urging that legislation be passed before the anniversary of George Floyd’s death next month, and to ask Congress to act on thorns. issues of prescription drug pricing, gun control, and modernizing the nation’s immigration system.

In his first three months in office, Biden signed a $ 1.9 trillion (€ 1.57 trillion) COVID-19 relief bill, passed without a single Republican vote, and has carried direct payments of $ 1,400. (€ 1,153) per person to more than 160 million. homes.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to state and local governments will soon arrive, enough money for overall US growth this year to eclipse 6%, a level not seen since 1984. Administration officials they are betting that it will be enough to regain the 8.4 million jobs lost to the pandemic by next year.

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