President Joe Biden made his first address to a joint session of Congress. He pressed his so-far popular agenda, which includes a $2 trillion infrastructure plan and a newly unveiled, $1.8 trillion plan for families, children and students.
With these proposals announced Wednesday night, Biden is looking to sustain economic growth following the passage of his massive Covid relief and stimulus plan and as the country recovers from the pandemic. He is also pushing for mass vaccinations against Covid as demand slips slightly and cases come down.
The president also has made the case for a broad green-energy initiative as part of his infrastructure and jobs plan, in a bid to restructure the economy for years to come.
Members of his party looked for him to address health care as a priority during the speech. His recent proposals lack a Medicare expansion and other health-care initiatives pushed by several key Democrats. But he made a push Wednesday night for increasing Medicare's power to negotiate drug prices.
Biden also touched on racial justice as the country contends with new instances of police violence against Black people as well as the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin trial. Chauvin, a white former police officer in Minneapolis, was found guilty last week of murdering George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, last year. On Wednesday, Biden called for Congress to pass police reform before the anniversary of Floyd's death on May 25.
Biden started a little after 9 p.m. ET and wrapped up just before 10:15.
Correction: An earlier version of this live blog misstated the day of the event in one instance.
Sabato: Biden’s address was a call to action for congressional Democrats
Political guru Larry Sabato said President Joe Biden's address to Congress was an urgent call to Democrats to pass legislation before the midterm elections.
"He was mainly speaking to Democrats, to let them know that if you agree with this agenda, and by and large they do, you better work hard to get as much of it as possible passed as quickly as possible before our majorities disappear," said Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
In a Wednesday evening interview on "The News with Shepard Smith," Sabato added that Biden was speaking to voters who likely voted for Donald Trump when he called out corporate America to pay their fair share and promised that he would not impose any tax increases on people making less than $400,000 a year.
"That's his hope of expanding the democratic coalition, so I think people will rightly focus on what he did to appeal to voters he didn't get," Sabato said. – Emily DeCiccio
Biden's policies 'tear us apart', Sen. Tim Scott says in GOP response
Sen. Tim Scott took aim at "Washington schemes" and "socialist dreams" as he delivered the official GOP response to Biden's first address to Congress.
"Three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further apart," Scott said, broadly arguing that Biden's frequent calls for unity are little more than "empty platitudes" that cover for radical policies.
Scott criticized Democrats' decision to "go it alone," rather than seek compromise with Republicans on a Covid relief bill.
"They spent almost $2 trillion on a partisan bill that the White House bragged was the most liberal bill in American history! Only 1% went to vaccinations. No requirement to reopen schools promptly," the South Carolina Republican said.
"Covid brought Congress together five times. This administration pushed us apart."
Scott also accused Democrats of pursuing a "partisan wish list" through the $2 trillion infrastructure proposal put forward by the White House last month.
Biden has argued that a pair of multitrillion-dollar spending packages are necessary to lift the U.S. out of the pandemic and position the workforce and the economy for the future.
But Scott said the lofty proposals amount to "throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best."
"A president who promised to bring us together should not push agendas that tear us apart," Scott said. — Kevin Breuninger
Biden calls Jan. 6 insurrection an 'existential crisis' for the U.S.
Speaking where a pro-Trump mob overran lawmakers while they prepared to count his electoral victory four months ago, Biden called the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt an "existential crisis" for the United States.
Despite the threats to the American government and a pandemic that has killed nearly 575,000 people in the U.S., Biden said he has never been more optimistic about the country.
"We have stared into the abyss of insurrection and autocracy, of pandemic and pain, and 'we the people' did not flinch," he said. — Jacob Pramuk
Biden finishes a wide-ranging speech with optimistic notes
Biden concluded his speech, which lasted just over an hour, with optimism and a warning to those who would bet against the U.S.
"And I can say with absolute confidence: I have never been more confident or more optimistic about America. We have stared into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy — of pandemic and pain — and 'we the people' did not flinch," he said.
Throughout the speech, Biden called upon lawmakers to send to his desk legislation ranging from his big-ticket infrastructure plan to efforts to curb gun violence and expand protections for historically marginalized communities.
"It's time we remembered that we the people are the government. You and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force we have no control over," he said. "It's us." — Thomas Franck
Biden wraps up after just a little over an hour
Biden's first address to a joint session of Congress lasted an hour and five minutes.
Biden tells transgender Americans: 'Your president has your back'
Biden offered a special assurance to transgender people as he called on Congress to send the Equality Act to his desk to sign.
"To all transgender Americans watching at home — especially the young people who are so brave — I want you to know, your president has your back," Biden said in his first joint address to Congress.
The Equality Act, which is aimed at growing protections for LGBTQ individuals, passed the House in late February mostly along party lines. Three Republicans voted in favor.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., would expand civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.
It would also ensure equal treatment for LGBTQ people in a range of new areas, including employment, education, housing, credit and public accommodations.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has vowed to put the bill on the floor of his chamber. "Let's see where everybody stands," he said. — Kevin Breuninger
Biden urges Congress to pass police reform by the anniversary of George Floyd's death
Biden pushed lawmakers to pass a police reform bill by the end of next month, the first anniversary of George Floyd's Memorial Day killing by Minneapolis police.
The Democratic-held House passed legislation in March that aims to end practices such as chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants, and seeks to curb so-called qualified immunity which shields officers from many civil lawsuits.
The bill, named for Floyd, has not made progress in the Senate, where it would need all 50 Democrats and 10 Republicans to pass.
Biden noted that Democrats and Republicans have held what he called "very productive discussions" around police reform. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, along with Rep. Karen Bass of California, the lead author of the House bill, have engaged on a potential police reform compromise. Scott will deliver the Republican response to Biden's speech.
"We need to work together to find a consensus," Biden said. "But let's get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd's death. The country supports this reform and Congress should act."
Derek Chauvin, the former officer who knelt on Floyd's neck for about nine minutes last year, was convicted this month on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. After the conviction, many lawmakers have called to act quickly to root out systemic abuse of power and violence against Black Americans in policing.
During his speech, Biden called more broadly to curb racist violence in the United States. He said intelligence agencies have determined "the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today is from white supremacist terrorism." — Jacob Pramuk
Climate change is 'a global fight'
Biden calls for gun control: 'We need a ban on assault weapons'
About 53 minutes into his speech, Biden called upon lawmakers to pass measures to combat what he categorized as a plague of gun violence in the U.S.
"I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence. But it's time for Congress to act as well," he said. "We need more Senate Republicans to join with the overwhelming majority of their Democratic colleagues, and close loopholes and require background checks to purchase a gun."
The president said the White House flag was still at half staff in March for the eight victims of a mass shooting in Atlanta when 10 more people were killed in a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.
"And we need a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," he added. "Talk to most responsible gun owners and hunters – they'll tell you there's no possible justification for having 100 rounds in a weapon." — Thomas Franck
U.S. will remain vigilant against terror after Afghan withdrawal, Biden vows
Biden warned that as the U.S. exits its longest war — in Afghanistan — America will remain vigilant against emerging threats around the globe.
"The terrorist threat has evolved beyond Afghanistan since 2001 and we will remain vigilant against threats to the United States, wherever they come from. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and other places in Africa and the Middle East and beyond," Biden said.
"We delivered justice to Osama Bin Laden and we degraded the terrorist threat of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. After 20 years of American valor and sacrifice, it's time to bring our troops home," he added.
Earlier this month, Biden announced a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, ending America's longest war.
The removal of approximately 3,000 U.S. service members coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which spurred America's entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.
During his address, Biden invoked the military service of his own son — Beau Biden, who deployed to Iraq for a year and died of cancer in 2015. He is the first president in 40 years to have a child serve in the U.S. military and serve in a war zone.
Biden's withdrawal timeline breaks with a proposed deadline brokered last year by the Trump administration with the Taliban. According to the deal, by May 1, all foreign forces would have had to leave Afghanistan. — Amanda Macias
Biden warns that malign Russian behavior will have consequences
Biden said he will hold Russian President Vladimir Putin to account for maligned behavior.
"I made very clear to President Putin that while we don't seek escalation, their actions have consequences," Biden told the joint session of Congress, referring to a phone call he had with the Kremlin leader.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration slapped Moscow with sanctions for alleged meddling in U.S. elections, human rights abuses and sweeping cyberattacks on American networks. In addition, the State Department announced the expulsion of 10 officials from the Russian Embassy in Washington.
Russia described the latest moves by the White House as a blow to bilateral relations and vowed to impose swift retaliatory measures. The Kremlin also blamed the United States for weakening the diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow.
"I responded in a direct and proportionate way to Russia's interference in our elections and cyberattacks on our government and businesses — and they did both of those things and I did respond," Biden said. "But we can also cooperate when it's in our mutual interests." — Amanda Macias
Biden on China's Xi: 'I made absolutely clear that I will defend American interests'
Biden told Congress he welcomes competition with Chinese President Xi Jinping but his administration will stand up to unfair international trade practices.
"I made absolutely clear that I will defend American interests across the board," Biden said, citing trade issues and theft of American intellectual property.
"I also told President Xi that we will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific just as we do with NATO in Europe — not to start conflict but to prevent conflict," Biden said, referencing tensions in the region.
Biden, who has previously said his administration would work more closely with allies in order to push back against China, added that he would hold Beijing to account for human rights abuses.
"America won't back away from our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms. No responsible American president can remain silent when basic human rights are violated. A president has to represent the essence of our country," Biden said.
The worsening relationship between the world's two largest economies has intensified following a tit-for-tat tariff fight during the Trump administration. — Amanda Macias
'I'm not looking to punish anybody' — Biden makes case for tax hikes on rich
Biden made the case to Congress for increasing the amount of taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans — a key feature of his latest economic overhaul plan.
"I'm not looking to punish anybody," Biden said. "But I will not add to additional tax burden of the middle class of this country. They're already paying enough."
"I believe what I've proposed is fair. It's fiscally responsible," the president said.
The White House's new $1.8 trillion spending package — just one part of a sweeping, $4 trillion-plus economy-boosting plan — would hike the top income tax rate to 39.6% for the wealthiest Americans and close a series of tax loopholes, among other provisions.
"We're going to reward work, not wealth," Biden said.
"Just 650 people increased their wealth by more than $1 trillion during this pandemic. They are now worth more than $4 trillion," he said.
"My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked. It's time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out." — Kevin Breuninger
Biden urges Congress to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour
Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
"No one should work 40 hours a week and still live below the poverty line," Biden said in his address.
Most Democratic lawmakers in Congress had hoped to include a wage-raising provision in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that Biden signed into law in March.
But the measure was stripped from the package after a nonpartisan Senate official determined lawmakers could not include it if they wanted to pass the bill through budget reconciliation.
The reconciliation rules allowed Democrats to pass the legislation in the Senate with a simple majority, bypassing the filibuster's 60-vote threshold. — Kevin Breuninger
Biden wants to allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices by this year
Biden called on Congress to take a major step toward reducing prescription drug prices this year.
The president urged lawmakers to allow Medicare to directly negotiate prices with drug companies. The move, long discussed on Capitol Hill, is expected to cut costs for consumers and save the government money.
He said the money could go toward boosting the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicare coverage "without costing taxpayers one additional penny."
"It's within our power to do it, let's do it now," he told the joint session of Congress. "We've talked about it long enough, Democrats and Republicans. Let's get it done this year."
Biden did not call for direct Medicare negotiations with drug companies as part of his American Families Plan unveiled Wednesday. Dozens of Democrats in Congress pushed him to include the provision in his proposal, the second piece of his economic recovery platform.
Medicare expansion also did not make the cut in Biden's plan. Democratic lawmakers have urged him to lower the eligibility age to either 55 or 60 in order to make millions more people eligible for coverage.
Advocates for direct Medicare drug price negotiations have said the move would free up funds to expand insurance coverage to more Americans. — Jacob Pramuk
Biden mixes patriotism and economics, advocates to 'Buy American'
Biden mixed economics, patriotism and populism in his speech, saying that his policies will be premised on the idea that everyday Americans should be encouraged to "Buy American."
"American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products made in America that create American jobs," the president said. "The way it should be."
"Now – I know some of you at home are wondering whether these jobs are for you. You feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that's rapidly changing. Let me speak directly to you," he said. "Independent experts estimate the American Jobs Plan will add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in economic growth for years to come. These are good-paying jobs that can't be outsourced." — Thomas Franck
Biden urges nationwide vaccination
Biden began his speech by imploring Americans to get vaccinated against Covid and touting how far the inoculation effort has come in his first 100 days in office.
"After I promised 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots in 100 days — we will have provided over 220 million Covid shots in 100 days," the president said. "We're marshalling every federal resource. We've gotten the vaccine to nearly 40,000 pharmacies and over 700 community health centers."
"Today, 90% of Americans now live within 5 miles of a vaccination site," he added. "Everyone over the age of 16, everyone — is now eligible and can get vaccinated right away. So get vaccinated now."
According to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 54.5% of the U.S. adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine while 37.8% are considered fully vaccinated. — Thomas Franck
Biden enters House chamber, fist-bumps his way down the aisle
Biden entered the House chamber and made his way down the center aisle before delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress.
Biden, clad in a dark suit, a solid blue tie and a black face mask, gave fist-bumps to members standing along the aisle as he made his way toward the dais.
"Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor to present to you, the president of the United States," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — Kevin Breuninger
VP Harris and Speaker Pelosi make history at Biden address to Congress
Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will make history on Wednesday evening as the first women to sit elevated behind the president as Biden gives his first address to Congress.
Fourteen years ago, Pelosi made history as the first woman to sit behind a president, then-President George W. Bush for an address to Congress.
Due to coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures, the House chamber, which has held up to 1,600 people during speeches like this, will seat only 200 people. – Amanda Macias
National Guard troops remain at Capitol ahead of Biden address
The acting secretary of the Army provided an additional 20 service members from the 33rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team ahead of Biden's address at the Capitol.
"D.C. National Guard personnel are ready to support the lead agency partners to help ensure the safety and protection of all participants and visitors," D.C. National Guard spokeswoman Capt. Chelsi Johnson said in a statement.
The U.S. Capitol, fortified with black steel fencing after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, is also guarded with some 2,250 armed National Guard troops from the District of Columbia and 18 states.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Tuesday she is confident about the security protocols ahead of Biden's speech.
"I actually had a very strong briefing on Monday. I said I wish I had had this briefing, you know, before January 6. But we insisted on knowing every detail of it," Pelosi said. — Amanda Macias
GOP Sen. Tim Scott to say Biden inherited vaccine progress, improving economy
Republican Sen. Tim Scott will rebut Biden's remarks by saying the president took over with the groundwork for vaccine deployment and an improving economy already in place.
"This administration inherited a tide that had already turned," the South Carolina senator will say in the GOP response to Biden, according to excerpts released ahead of his speech. "The coronavirus is on the run!"
"Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines. Thanks to our bipartisan work last year, job openings are rebounding," he will say.
Scott will also argue for Republican economic policies based on record-low unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic Americans seen before the coronavirus ravaged the economy last year.
During his speech, Biden plans to tout the pace of Covid-19 vaccines under his administration. He will also trumpet the economic recovery, which he will attribute in part to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Democrats passed earlier this year without a GOP vote.
Republicans aim to win both chambers of Congress back from Democrats in next year's midterm elections. They hope their argument that Biden and his party have led the country on a liberal spending spree will overrule the broad popularity of the president's major legislative plans. — Jacob Pramuk
Investors await Biden's remarks on potential capital gains tax hike
From Wall Street's perspective, Biden's address will likely prove more interesting if he spends time talking about how to pay for the trillions of dollars' worth of stimulus he's asking lawmakers to consider.
Traders will be poring over the president's remarks for any additional details on his plan to close a series of tax loopholes and hike taxes on capital gains to 39.6% for households making more than $1 million.
Markets came under pressure last week after early reports suggested the Biden administration would make good on a campaign promise to require the wealthiest U.S. households to pay more as a percentage of their annual income.
Biden's top economic advisor, National Economic Council director Brian Deese, said earlier this week that the capital gains tax hike would impact only 0.3% of taxpayers and target those who make the majority of their annual income from financial security sales.
"For the typical Americans, most of their income comes from wages," he said. "So, for people making less than $1 million a year, about 70% of their income comes from wages. But for those making more than $1 million, for the top 0.3%, it's the opposite. About 30% of their [income] comes from wages."
Investors may also try to determine how earnest Biden is about reaching a bipartisan agreement on the American Families Plan. If the president is bent on working with Republicans (and even if he opts to pursue budget reconciliation), the final composition of the bill may be more modest.
Biden and his team also seek to close the carried interest tax loophole, a hot topic among Wall Street's private-equity managers.
Currently, earnings from funds owned by managers of private equity and venture capital firms are taxed as capital gains at about 20%, instead of as regular income that would be taxed at about double that rate when state and local levies are included. — Thomas Franck
Covid, Capitol invasion force new restrictions on the traditional fanfare
Biden's first address to Congress will lack much of the pageantry that has historically accompanied the event, due to restrictions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion.
Biden, in keeping with tradition, will deliver his speech in the House chamber — but the spacious chamber will hold only about 200 audience members, in accordance with Covid-related social distancing precautions.
Similar addresses in the past would routinely see 1,600 people packed inside. But this time, many of the chairs will be covered with white paper, signifying they are blocked for use.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden will preserve the tradition of walking down the center aisle of the chamber. But unlike in past years, the president will be wearing a mask, and he will remove it only when he is about to begin his speech, Psaki said.
Security for the speech will also significantly heightened compared with past years, NBC reported.
Metal detectors were set up outside the House chamber after the January invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters.
Members of Congress attending the event in person will be subject to health screenings, as well. They will have to provide proof of a recent negative Covid test or of vaccination in order to attend, NBC said.
The White House also confirmed that due to the pandemic, first lady Jill Biden will break with tradition by not inviting any guests to her viewing box for the speech. Instead, her five guests will be watching the speech remotely, the White House said. — Kevin Breuninger