Biden’s first address to Congress: What he said vs what he meant

The 46th president delivered a State of the Union-type speech after 102 days in power

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Thursday 29 April 2021 04:29
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What Joe Biden said: “My fellow Americans. While the setting tonight is familiar, this gathering is very different — a reminder of the extraordinary times we are in. Throughout our history, presidents have come to this chamber to speak to the Congress, to the nation, and to the world. To declare war. To celebrate peace. To announce new plans and possibilities. Tonight, I come to talk about crisis — and opportunity. About rebuilding our nation — and revitalizing our democracy. And winning the future for America.”

What Joe Biden meant: Remember when I suggested that I’d be a “transitional president?” Nah. I’m aiming to be one of those Democrats who are remembered by their initials — think FDR, JFK, LBJ, JRB.

What he said: “It’s 100 days since I took the oath of office — lifted my hand off our family Bible — and inherited a nation in crisis. The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”

What he meant: Before you start questioning what I’m about to propose, remember how bad things were when that “former guy” was in charge. Good God, man — he really drove us into a ditch, and that was before he inspired a literal insurrection in this very building! 

What he said: “Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength. Life can knock us down. But in America, we never stay down. 

In America, we always get up. And today, that’s what we’re doing: America is rising anew. Choosing hope over fear. Truth over lies. Light over darkness. After 100 Days of rescue and renewal, America is ready for takeoff.”

What he meant: See how easy it is to not screw things up when you govern with a modicum of competence? 

What he said: “100 days ago, America’s house was on fire. We had to act.

And thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer – and with the overwhelming support of the American people – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – we did act. Together — we passed the American Rescue Plan, one of the most consequential rescue packages in American history.”

What he meant: Hey! Republicans — yeah, you there trying to conspicuously not clap for me. Kevin? Mitch? Yeah, I’m talking to you. Remember that $1.9 trillion relief bill none of you voted for? It’s way more popular than anything you’ve got right now. Oh — and so are the things I’m proposing tonight. Your voters like them, so maybe you should consider getting on board.

What he said: “There’s still more work to do to beat this virus. We can’t let our guard down now. But tonight, I can say because of you — the American people – our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history is one of the greatest logistical achievements our country has ever seen. What else have we done these first 100 days?

We kept our commitment and we are sending $1,400 rescue checks to 85% of all American households. We’ve already sent more than 160 million checks out the door. It’s making a difference.”

What he meant: Shots in arms and money in pocket, folks! Hey Kevin — ask your voters if they like their Biden Bucks!

What he said: “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?

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.”

What he meant: For those of you following along at home, I’d like to remind you that not a single Republican voted for the American Rescue Plan. If they had their way, American children would be starving right now. 

What he said: “That will be the fastest pace of economic growth in this country in nearly four decades. America is moving — moving forward — and we can’t stop now.

We’re in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century. We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better.”

What he meant: Remember when Trump bragged about 4 percent growth but didn’t get there? To the moon, baby!

What he said: “The American Jobs Plan creates jobs replacing 100% of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines so every American, so every child – can turn on the faucet and be certain to drink clean water.

It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed internet, including 35% of rural Americans who still don’t have it. This will help our kids and businesses succeed in a 21st Century economy, and I am asking the Vice President to help lead this effort.”

What he meant: Kamala is going to run in 2028 and she can’t win if rural voters hate her.

What he said: “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: 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. Nearly 90% of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan do not require a college degree, 75% do not require an associate’s degree. The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”


What he said: “Finally, the American Jobs Plan will be the biggest increase in non-defense research and development on record. We will see more technological change in the next 10 years – than we saw in the last 50 years — and we’re falling behind in that competition. Decades ago we used to invest 2% of our GDP on research and development. Today, we spend less than 1%. China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, and clean energy.”

What he meant: If you vote against this one, you’re going to look like an ass if you even think about calling me “Beijing Biden”. Go ahead, make my day. 

What he said: “Investments in jobs and infrastructure like the ones we’re talking about have often had bipartisan support. Vice President Harris and I meet regularly in the Oval Office with Democrats and Republicans to discuss the American Jobs Plan, and I applaud a group of Republican Senators who just put forward their proposal.

So, let’s get to work. We welcome ideas, but the rest of the world isn’t waiting for us. Doing nothing is not an option.”

What he meant: Hi, Mitch. This plan is as popular as the American Rescue Plan that you didn’t vote for, so maybe you might consider getting on board before we pass it with reconciliation and I run ads telling your constituents about how you voted against fixing their roads and getting them jobs that pay more than minimum wage.

What he said: “We’re going to get rid of the loopholes that allow Americans who make more than $1 million a year pay a lower rate on their capital gains than working Americans pay on their work. This will only affect three tenths of 1% of all Americans, and the IRS will crack down on millionaires and billionaires who cheat on their taxes — that’s estimated to be billions of dollars.

Look, I’m not out to punish anyone, but I will not add to the tax burden of the middle class of this country — they’re already paying enough. What I’ve proposed is fair. It’s fiscally responsible. It raises the revenue to pay for the plans I’ve proposed that will create millions of jobs and grow the economy.”

What he meant: The era of Ronald Reagan is over.

What 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. A broad consensus of economists – left, right, center – agree that what I’m proposing will help create millions of jobs and generate historic economic growth.”

What he meant: I SAID OVER, MITCH. After the last four years, you don’t get to talk about fiscal responsibility ever again.

What he said: “In my discussion with President Xi, I told him that we welcome the competition – and that we are not looking for conflict — but I made absolutely clear that I will defend American interests across the board. America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and industries, like subsidies for state-owned enterprises and the theft of American technologies and 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. And, I told him what I’ve said to many world leaders – that 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.”

What he meant: Trump’s tariffs can stay, but the coddling and sucking up to dictators is o-v-e-r over. 

What he said: “With regard to Russia, I made very clear to President Putin that while we don’t seek escalation, their actions have consequences. I responded in a direct and proportionate way to Russia’s interference in our elections and cyber—attacks on our government and businesses – and they did both of those things and I did respond.”

What he meant: Donald Trump can run in 2024, but if he does he will have to do it without any foreign help.

What he said: “We won’t ignore what our own intelligence agencies have determined – the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today is from white supremacist terrorism.”

What he meant: What Donald Trump and some of you supported on January 6th will never happen again, and there will be consequences for it. 

What he said: “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. 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.”

What he meant: This is a 90-10 issue. Get on board or I’ll hang it around your necks. 

What he said: “As we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol—desecrating our democracy—remain vivid in our minds.

Lives were put at risk. Lives were lost. Extraordinary courage was summoned. The insurrection was an existential crisis—a test of whether our democracy could survive.

It did, but the struggle is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent, as old as our Republic, still vital today. 

Can our democracy deliver on its promise that all of us – created equal in the image of God – have a chance to lead lives of dignity, respect, and possibility? Can our democracy deliver on the most pressing needs of our people? Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate and fears that have pulled us apart? 

America’s adversaries – the autocrats of the world – are betting it can’t. They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. They are wrong. And we have to prove them wrong. We have to prove democracy still works — that our government still works – and can deliver for the people.”

What he meant: If you supported the insurrectionists or make excuses for them, you are standing with America’s enemies. This is a time for choosing.

What he said: “We have stared into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy — of pandemic and pain — and “We the People” did not flinch.

At the very moment our adversaries were certain we would pull apart and fail, we came together, united, with light and hope, we summoned new strength and new resolve, to position us to win the competition for the 21st Century, on our way forward to a Union more perfect, more prosperous, more just, as one people, one nation, one America.

It’s never been a good bet to bet against America, and it still isn’t.

We are the United States of America. There is nothing – nothing – beyond our capacity – nothing we can’t do – if we do it together.”

What he meant: The choice is simple: Democracy or not, competence or not. You know what side I’m on, so stand with me and let’s get things done. 

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