COVID-19 Pandemic, Economy, Racial Justice, Gun Laws and Climate: Biden Gears Up to Address Congress

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by Svetlana Ekimenko

In a prime-time address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden on Wednesday will lay out his administration’s major immediate priorities, with initiatives he’s dubbed ‘social infrastructure’ high on the agenda.

President Joe Biden is gearing up for his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, timed to the Democratic POTUS’s 100th day in office.

As he reports to lawmakers on his accomplishments to date, he shall outline his administration’s domestic and foreign policy priorities.

Joe Biden will reportedly make mention of the historical occasion that for the first time, two women will be forming the backdrop for a presidential address to Congress: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.

‘National Security Event’

Slated for 9 p.m. EDT and broadcast by all major networks and cable news TV channels, the setting for what is designated a “national special security event” hosted by the House of Representatives chamber, has been invariably affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In line with the restrictions seeking to prevent the spread of the respiratory disease, attendance is limited to allow for social distancing.

Accordingly, just 200 of the 535 members of Congress have received tickets to attend the event in person.
Many Republican Senators are anticipated to skip attendance, writes the Washington Post.

Most of Joe Biden’s Cabinet members will likewise be listening to the event from home, as will the Supreme Court justices.

This will leave Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to represent the executive branch of government in person at the Capitol, while Chief Justice John Roberts will represent the judicial branch.

Everyone present in person will wear a mask, as will the POTUS, as he walks down the aisle to the rostrum, removing it only for the actual speech, according to the White House.

There will also be security restrictions in place for the event, in the wake of the riots at the Capitol on 6 January, with fencing still up around the building and the National Guard in attendance.

“Obviously the events of the sixth are poignant reminders of why we need to be vigilant… But the standard of security remains the same,” Michael Plati, the US Secret Service special agent leading security for the joint session was quoted as saying.

‘Human Infrastructure’ in Focus

Joe Biden is expected to outline details of his vision for the country pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, racial justice and climate, among others.

Particularly high on the agenda is the much-touted “American Families Plan”, or initiatives tasked with addressing “social infrastructure”.

“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 “ensuring that there’s an investment in economic security from the federal government”, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week.

The sweeping piece of legislation Biden wants Congress to pass is to focus on measures seeking to support households, with the costs covered by tax hikes on high-income Americans and investors.

The approximately $1.8 trillion spending and tax plan presupposes allocating hundreds of billions of dollars to national child care, prekindergarten, paid family leave and tuition-free community college, among other domestic issues.

As the nation continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, the president is also expected to make the case for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, unveiled earlier this month.

The President’s new economic investment programme, the American Jobs Plan, unveiled in March, seeks to invest in public transit, rail, airports, water pipes, high-speed broadband, roads and bridges, veterans’ hospitals, childcare centres and combating racial disparities.

Republicans have slammed the size of Biden’s proposals, which follow Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure, as well as plans to pay for it by raising taxes on US corporations.

Police Reforms

Joe Biden will also press for police reforms in his speech, coming not long after former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on three counts of murder and manslaughter in the death of African-American George Floyd.

In the wake of the verdict, announced on 20 April, Biden had urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Drafted by Democrats in the United States Congress and introduced by Rep. Karen Bass in June 2020, the civil rights and police reform bill is tasked with combating police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias in policing.

It would ban chokeholds, “no-knock” warrants and profiling, establishing national standards for police training, among other measures.

The bill has passed the House of Representatives, yet faces odds in the Senate.

Gun Safety

Joe Biden is also expected to touch upon changes to gun safety.

Earlier in April, Joe Biden had hosted “survivors of gun violence” at a White House ceremony, as he unveiled new executive actions to curb gun violence, including banning assault weapons and expanding background checks.

“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and a national embarrassment,” said Biden, calling on Congress to act on firearm-related bills.

Immigration Reform

Immigration reform shall also be addressed by Biden, after his proposal, unveiled in March, offered an eight-year path to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. It also sought to eliminate restrictions on family-based immigration and expand worker visas.

It is currently unclear how and if Biden will address the crisis situation on the US-Mexico border, where March witnessed US Custom and Border Patrol apprehend 18,656 unaccompanied minors.

Biden’s administration has adamantly refused to call the situation at the border a ‘crisis’.

Foreign Policy

Joe Biden will also be outlying his foreign policy vision in his speed to Congress, after he promised to “end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East”.

After two decades, on 14 April Biden announced the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Troops are scheduled to be fully withdrawn by 11 September, months past the original 1 May deadline agreed to under the Trump administration.

Biden also announced he was ending American support for the five-year Saudi Arabia-led military offensive in Yemen.

In a statement on 24 April, President Biden officially recognised the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

Climate

A strong advocate of climate-related policies, Joe Biden is expected to touch upon related concerns. Since his inauguration, Biden has rejoined the Paris climate agreement, previously scrapped by his predecessor Donald Trump, cancelled the Keystone XL oil pipeline permit, and is seeking to reverse a spate of Trump-era environmental rules.

Biden Rebuttal

Republicans have enlisted black GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina to offer the Party’s response to Biden’s speech.

“Nobody is better at communicating why far-left policies fail working Americans,” stated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Sputnik

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