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What to watch for in Biden’s first joint address to Congress

President Joe Biden will mark the conclusion of his first 100 days in office with his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. During the address, Biden will outline his legislative priorities and share his administration’s accomplishments so far, including overturning a number of Trump-era policies and signing a $1.9 trillion economic relief package.

President Biden’s address will begin at 9 p.m. ET on April 28. Watch in the video player above.

The event comes as the White House and congressional Democrats push for major legislation on infrastructure, social services and policing.

Why is the president’s first address to Congress important?

The past six presidents have chosen to deliver a joint session speech during their first year in office instead of an official State of the Union address, according to the Congressional Research Service, though the two speeches serve similar purposes.

These newly inaugurated presidents regard the joint session address as an opportunity to “sell” Congress and the public on their agenda, while they use the State of the Union speech as a report to the American people on what the administration has done so far, said Martha Joynt Kumar, co-founder and director for the White House Transition Project.

Like the State of the Union speech, the joint session address usually takes place in February, includes all members from both congressional chambers, and is followed by a response delivered by a member of the opposition party.

What to expect from Biden’s address

Biden’s remarks will begin at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, just ahead of his 100th day in office, which will be later than joint session addresses by recent past presidents. The delayed date gives Biden an opportunity to update the public on his administration’s work over the last three months, Kumar said.

Biden is expected to give an update on the country’s effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 570,000 people in the United States. The administration set an initial goal of administering 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine during his first 100 days in office, which the White House then updated to 200 million vaccinations. As of Monday, 230.7 million doses have been administered and nearly 96 million people in the U.S., about 29 percent of the country, are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration has also pushed to address the economic fallout of the pandemic, which led to millions of jobs lost and thousands of businesses shuttered. The pandemic unemployment rate peaked at 14.8 percent in April 2020. An economic impact report released by Yelp in September determined that as of Aug. 31, about 98,000 businesses that closed due to the pandemic would not reopen.

Last month, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion economic bill that delivered direct payments to individuals, as well as increased funding for unemployment benefits and businesses.

Biden will likely use the speech to promote his $2.3 trillion proposal aimed at fixing the country’s dilapidated infrastructure and correcting inequities built into those systems that have historically disadvantaged low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

Ahead of Wednesday’s address, the White House may also unveil the president’s anticipated American Families Plan that would invest in services like paid parental leave. Biden will speak about the plan in his address, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“The core of that [speech] will be him laying out the specifics of the American Families Plan, his commitment to child care, to education, and to delivering on those priorities,” Psaki told reporters last week.

Biden will likely address police reform, a subject reignited by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted last week of three charges, including the second-degree murder of Floyd. Since then, the Department of Justice has announced plans to investigate the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department and the police department in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in March 2020.

Following Biden’s speech, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., will deliver the Republican Party response.

How has the pandemic affected the event?

The president’s first address to Congress is a major political event that typically includes a live audience of hundreds of lawmakers and their guests. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event is invite-only, and only about 200 people will be able to attend.

As in previous years, the joint session address will be designated as a “national special security event,” which gives the Secret Service control over coordinating security. Following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, security and law enforcement are expected to be on high alert.

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