President Joe Biden gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, highlighting the accomplishments of his first 100 days and his proposals for accomplishing future goals.
The president’s first 100 days in office have been marked by crises that have come from all angles, from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change to racial injustice to the recovering economy. Biden spoke to lawmakers about how he’s managed the crises so far and what he wants Congress to help him achieve.
“I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden said. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”
Here are some of the key moments from Biden’s address:
Harris And Pelosi Make History
Wednesday marked the first time two women, the vice president and the speaker of the House, have shared the stage behind the president during a speech to a joint session of Congress.
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had already made history as the first woman sworn in as House speaker in 2007. During Biden’s presidency, Harris became the first woman, Black American and Indian American to become vice president.
“Madame Speaker, Madame Vice President,” Biden said, gesturing to the women. “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”
During a president’s address to Congress, it is customary for the vice president and the House speaker to sit behind him. Though Pelosi has previously taken that seat as speaker, now that Kamala Harris is vice president, it created the first time a president had been joined on the House dais by two women.
Proposing To Fund Education By Raising Taxes On The Rich
Biden formally introduced his American Families Plan, which includes a proposal to spend $1.8 trillion over the next decade on the nation’s education system.
According to the president, the plan addresses four major challenges facing American families: access to a good education, access to affordable child care, paid family and medical leave and tax credits for the middle class.
The proposal has an uncertain political path ahead as Biden proposed a number of tax hikes for some of the wealthiest Americans as a way of paying for the plan.
“We’re going to reform corporate taxes so they pay their fair share ― and help pay for the public investments their businesses will benefit from. And we’re going to reward work, not wealth,” he said, adding that those making $400,000 or more will see their tax rate go back up to 39.6%.
Calling For Drug Pricing Legislation
Biden asked Congress to pass legislation this year that would give the federal government the power to negotiate prescription drug prices.
“We all know how outrageously expensive they are,” he said of prescription drugs. “In fact, we pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world right here in America ― nearly three times as much as other countries. We can change that.”
During his speech, the president talked about giving Medicare the power to save “hundreds of billions of dollars” by negotiating to lower drug costs, with the money saved going to strengthen the Affordable Care Act without costing taxpayers more.
Opening Food Benefits To People Convicted Of Felonies
Part of Biden’s American Families Plan includes a provision that slightly improves access for those who’d been convicted of drug felonies to access the federal government’s existing safety net.
“One of the defining images of this crisis has been cars lined up for miles waiting for a box of food to be put in the trunk. Did you ever think you’d see that in America?” he said. “That’s why the American Rescue Plan is delivering food and nutrition assistance to millions of Americans facing hunger ― and hunger is down sharply already.”
The 1996 welfare reform law prohibited people with felony drug convictions from receiving federal welfare or food benefits, even if they had completed their sentences and were reentering society. The president’s proposal would lift the felony restriction for nutrition assistance, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, one of the federal government’s biggest anti-poverty programs.
Demanding That Congress Pass Police Reform
Biden called for Americans to “root out systemic racism,” pressuring Congress to pass police reform legislation in the name of George Floyd, whose murder by a police officer in Minneapolis last year sparked a nationwide reckoning on police brutality and racial injustice.
“We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America. Now is our opportunity to make some real progress,” he said.
Biden said he wants Congress by next month to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the Democratic-led House passed earlier this year. The bill would ban police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, require data collection on police encounters and end qualified immunity for police officers.