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President Joe Biden will give his first joint address to Congress Wednesday — a moment to sell his vision to the American people that comes on the eve of his 100th day in office. Biden is expected to outline his plans to tackle the pandemic and reimagine the U.S. economy with a focus on creating jobs while combating climate change. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins report from the Capitol.
It promises to be a big night, and, for President Biden, there is a lot on the line.
He gives his first joint address to Congress, a televised moment to sell his vision to the American people. It comes on the eve of his 100th day in office and at a critical time for the pandemic. He will outline his plan to reimagine the U.S. economy, with a focus on more help for American families and on jobs that grow out of rebuilding infrastructure.
Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins are both at the Capitol tonight. And they join me now.
Hello to both of you.
Yamiche, I'm going to start with you.
What are you learning about what the president is going to be saying?
Well, this is a huge moment for President Biden and our nation. This is his first address to Congress.
And he's making this address just 112 days after an armed mob stormed into the Capitol, the very place where he will be standing tonight, to try to stop him from becoming president. And, of course, he was legitimately elected.
So, the president is going to be speaking a lot to restoring faith in democracy, I'm told by White House sources. He's also going to be unveiling the American Families Plan. It's going to be this plan focused on education and childcare.
But — so the president's going to be talking a lot about that. I should tell you that White House officials are stressing that he will not be taking a victory lap. They say he's going to be talking about his accomplishments, including getting 200 million shots in the arms of Americans in the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as 160 million checks in people's mailboxes in terms of getting stimulus checks to people.
He's also going to be talking about immigration, pushing for a path to citizenship to — for immigrants who don't have legal status. He's going to be talking about policing, talking about the George Floyd Policing Act, saying that it needs to be passed by Congress.
I want to also read to you an excerpt of the president's address tonight that the White House put out. He's going to be talking about how he inherited a nation in crisis. And he's going to say: "Now, just after 100 days, I can report to the nation America is on the move again, turning peril into possibility, crisis into opportunity, setback into strength."
And he will go on to say: "We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works and can deliver for the people."
So, this is going to be a big speech. And it's going to be a speech that really gets to the heart of what he says is his governing accomplishments, but also the way forward.
And, Lisa, the president is going to be speaking in the House chamber tonight. You have had a look at it.
It's going to be different from the usual situation when the president speaks there. Tell us about that.
That's right, Judy.
We have never seen an address like this in U.S. history. And it's possible, we may not ever see one like this again. Because of COVID restrictions, let me run through a little bit about what's going to happen in the House chamber tonight.
First of all, just 200 people total, about that many, will be in the chamber for that speech. That's different than the 1,400 that are usually crammed in side by side, even up in the galleries.
Now, tonight, everyone in the chamber will have needed to either be tested negative for COVID or prove that they are fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks after that final vaccination shot.
And to space out the lawmakers that will be in there, they will be using the balconies. So, it's hard for me to say what people will be seeing, but likely you will be seeing lawmakers dotted throughout the chamber. I was able to get in there and look, and you will see that some rows only have one person in them. Republicans are seated on one side of the chamber, Democrats on the other.
They had been mixing that up in years past, but, this year, it looks like they will keep them in partisan aisles.
Now, as much as I think that that will be the dominant image, this strange image of lawmakers dotting the House chamber, we will also have something else unprecedented happening tonight. That will be the two people standing behind President Biden will be two women for the first time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris, because she is the president of the Senate.
So, that is something also to look forward to. And, in addition, we will have the first address from an African American Republican senator be in the response for the Republicans, Tim Scott. He told me he's been practicing for days.
And we know a little bit about what he's going to say. To counter President Biden's message of his agenda, we expect Senator Scott to talk about the Republican agenda, the idea that Republicans are the party of opportunity. And he will say that the economy was at its best before the pandemic, when Republicans were in charge.
And he will make an argument that Republicans should be back in charge again.
And then, Yamiche, back to you.
You mentioned what else the president is going to be talking about, unveiling something they're calling the American Families Plan. It's the second half of this ambitious set of programs they are rolling out. Tell us more about that.
Well, President Biden has been working for weeks on this address. And part of that is unveiling those new details. Altogether, he's really proposing $6 trillion in spending, when you take the American Rescue Act, the American Jobs Plan, as well as the American Families Plan together.
Tonight, I want to walk people through what this $1.8 trillion American Families Plan has in it. It has $200 billion for universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-old children in this country. It has $109 billion for two years of free community college for all Americans. That includes dreamers, Judy.
It's also $225 billion for paid family and medical leave. That's for workers who need time to take care of a new child or a seriously ill family member, as well as take care of themselves if they have a serious injury.
The president is going to be proposing paying for all of this with tax hikes over 10 years, $1.5 trillion worth of tax hikes. The president's also going to be traveling, talking about the American Families Plan. He is going to be going to Georgia and Pennsylvania, as well as Virginia.
So there's really going to be a real push to try to get Congress to say: We need to pass this.
But it's going to be really tough to get Republicans on board because of those tax hikes that are going to the wealthiest of Americans.
And, speaking of that, Lisa, what are you hearing already in the way of reaction from members to all this?
Republicans have a real problem with this. They see this as tearing down what they believe is one of their seminal achievements, the 2017 tax cuts. Of course, Democrats, as you heard, disagree.
I talked to one senator, Deb Fischer, who will be in the chamber tonight. And she said: I know that the president is talking about bipartisanship, but I want more than words. I want actions.
And she says this plan, to her, looks partisan.
On the other hand, Democrats are saying they like the plan. Some of them want more, like Bernie Sanders, who I talked to today. He will have a prominent — a pretty far — a pretty — a seat pretty close to the front tonight. He says he does want to add more to this plan, especially when it comes to prescription drugs and expanding Medicare.
All right, Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both.
And we will see you in a few hours.
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Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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