The Latest: Republicans respond to Biden speech to Congress


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Joe Biden’s first joint address to Congress (all times local):

11 p.m.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has used the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s address to Congress to vow that “America is not a racist country.”

Scott, the only Black Republican senator, seized on Biden’s calls earlier in the evening that passage of major police reform could help stamp out institutional racism nationwide. Scott countered that “today, kids are being taught the color of their skin defines them again. If they look a certain way, they’re the oppressor.”

He said Biden and other top Democrats have begun crying racism too frequently when it comes to unrelated policy disputes, saying “race is not a political weapon to settle every issue.” He bristled at Democratic suggestions that voting rights restrictions passed by GOP-controlled legislatures around the country were meant to keep minority Americans from casting ballots.

Scott argued that the economy under Republican President Donald Trump boomed, helping to lower unemployment dramatically for Black and Hispanic Americans before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Scott also chided congressional Democrats for opposing legislation he personally championed on police reform, arguing that, going forward, Americans of all races should unite since they “are all in this together.”



10:50 p.m.

Republican Sen. Tim Scott says President Joe Biden is failing to fulfill his promise to bring the country closer together and is even pulling the country further apart.

Scott gave the GOP’s response to Biden’s address to Congress on Wednesday night. He says public schools should have opened months ago and have been shown to be safe for children during the coronavirus pandemic. He calls the last few months “the clearest case I’ve seen for school choice in our lifetimes.”

Scott says infrastructure is another issue that should unite the country. He says Republicans support investments in roads, bridges, airports and broadband, but Democrats want what he describes as a “partisan wish list” that goes beyond that. He says “they won’t even build bridges to build bridges.” Biden has appealed to Republicans to present him with a legitimate counteroffer to his plan.

Scott also talked about Georgia’s new voting law, calling opposition to it “misplaced outage” that is not about the country’s racial past but about “rigging elections in the future.” Democratic advocates have said the law makes it harder for people to vote, particularly people of color.


10:40 p.m.

President Joe Biden abandoned the COVID-19-safe elbow bumps as he left the House of Representatives after his first speech to Congress on Wednesday night.

Biden opted for fist bumps, back slaps, handshakes, and even some hand-holding as members of Congress approached him.

The longtime senator took his time leaving the chamber, and was standing in the aisle talking to lawmakers when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled the session closed.

He chatted with senior Democratic leaders, including the head of the House Financial Services Committee, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, and Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who leads the House Appropriations Committee. Biden held DeLauro’s hands as they spoke.

Biden engaged some Republicans, shaking hands with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and grabbing his arm as they talked. The president appeared in no hurry to leave and spoke with most anyone who approached him, even taking one person’s card.

He finally left the chamber at 10:21 p.m., 10 minutes after ending his speech.


10:30 p.m.

President Joe Biden has ended his first address to a joint session of Congress by reaching to evoke the sweep of history. He says the notion of “we the people” is actually “the government, you and I.”

Biden mentioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt by name as he argued for passage of a $1.8 trillion spending plan that would greatly expand the government’s role in the lives of everyday Americans.

But as Biden wrapped up his prime-time speech, he also spoke of the mob that on Jan. 6 overran the Capitol building where he gave his address Wednesday night.

Biden took a swipe at conspiracy theorists who have criticized the concept of a “deep state,” and the president said the government was about all Americans.

He told the nation: “We have stared into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy, of pandemic and pain, and ‘We the people’ did not flinch.”

He concluded by saying that as the country begins to confront a new chapter against the pandemic, “There is not a single thing, nothing, nothing beyond our capacity. We can do whatever we set our minds to it as long as we do it together.”


10:25 p.m.

President Joe Biden says 12 years of education is no longer enough to compete in the 21st century. But he’s also saying a college degree is unnecessary for nearly 90% of the jobs that would be created through his proposal to boost the country’s roads, bridges and other public works.

Biden is using his first speech to Congress to promote his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and his newly announced $1.8 trillion proposal that includes universal preschool, two years of free community college and $225 billion for child care.

Republicans are seeking a narrower, less costly infrastructure plan. Biden is selling his plan as a massive job creator. He calls it a “blue-collar blueprint to build America.”

When it comes to education, Biden said the “world is catching up.” He’s looking to provide for two years of universal preschool for every 3- and 4- year-old in America. On top of that, his plan would add two years of free community college.

He says his administration would also increase investments in Pell grants and in historically Black colleges and universities.


10:20 p.m.

President Joe Biden wants bipartisan action in Congress on fighting gun violence.

During his address to Congress on Wednesday night, the president said “this is not a Democrat or Republican issue” but “it’s an American issue.”

Biden outlined a number of what he called “reasonable reforms.” Examples include universal background checks, and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

He said such restrictions “have overwhelming support from the American people.”

Biden also had a message for gun rights advocates who say that those kind of restrictions would impinge upon their constitutional rights: “We’re not changing the Constitution, we’re being reasonable.”


10:10 p.m.

President Joe Biden says the United States has “to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.”

Biden says in his first address to Congress as president that he wants lawmakers to pass police overhaul legislation by the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after a police officer pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck.

Floyd’s death sparked national demonstrations against police brutality and institutional racism.

Biden mentioned the legislation in his speech and said “the country supports this reform and Congress should act.” The House has passed the sweeping overhaul of policing and law enforcement, but it has yet to clear the Senate.

The president says that “we have a real chance to root out systemic racism.”


10 p.m.

President Joe Biden is stressing the need for global engagement and cooperation on everything from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change. It’s a sharp contrast from President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.

Biden says in a prime-time address to Congress that “the comment I hear most often” in his conversations with world leaders is: “We see that America is back — but for how long?”

Biden says that “we have to show not just that we are back, but that we are here to stay.”

Under Trump, the United States pursued a policy of unilateralism and withdrew from a number of international alliances and diplomatic relationships.

Biden pledged as part of its diplomatic efforts that the U.S. will eventually “become an arsenal of vaccines for other countries – just as America was the arsenal of democracy in World War II.”


9:55 p.m.

President Joe Biden says he’s “not looking to punish anybody” but does plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Biden wasn’t shy about saying during a joint address to Congress that he’ll pay for his $1.8 trillion spending package by raising taxes on the rich. He attacked the Republican-backed, 2017 tax cuts, saying they created large deficits while most benefiting the richest Americans.

Biden says his plan will most help the American middle class. He’s also pledging not to raise taxes on the middle class. He says most Americans have already “paid enough.”

But the president also says that the huge increase in spending he’s backing will require more money coming into the government, and he says it should come from CEOs and the rich.


9:35 p.m.

President Joe Biden is making a direct appeal to blue-collar workers as he pitches his massive spending package during his joint address to Congress on Wednesday night.

Biden is telling Americans that his infrastructure proposal will help “millions of people get back to their jobs and their careers.” Biden is emphasizing blue-collar roles as he outlines the plan, saying it will create jobs in everything from modernizing America’s roads, bridges and highways to replacing the nation’s lead pipes.

Biden says his plan will provide opportunities for engineers, construction workers, electrical workers and farmers. He promises the plan will create “jobs Americans can raise their families on.”

That appeal to blue-collar workers has shaped Biden’s entire political career. Biden made a pitch to moderate, rural white voters as a centerpiece of his 2020 campaign.


9:30 p.m.

President Biden is marking his first 100 days in office by highlighting passage of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief legislation known as the American Rescue Plan and he’s noting that his administration has provided more than 220 million COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Biden says he inherited a nation in crisis and now he can report that “America is on the move again.”

In his first address to Congress as president, Biden says the United States is already seeing the results of “one of the most consequential rescue packages in American history.” He’s emphasizing that the package included $1,400 checks to 85% of U.S. households. And he says more than 160 million checks are already out the door.

As to the vaccine, he says it is available in nearly 40,000 pharmacies and more than 700 community health centers.

Now, 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a vaccination site, and Biden’s message is, “Go get vaccinated America.”

Biden is also emphasizing that the economy is on the mend under his watch.


9:25 p.m.

It was an unusual scene when President Joe Biden arrived in the House of Representatives for his first speech to Congress on Wednesday night. There were only about 200 lawmakers in attendance in the large chamber. They were spaced part and favored elbow bumps over the usual back slaps because of COVID-19 protocols.

There wasn’t the usual roar of applause or crush of center-aisle lawmakers shaking hands with the president. Biden’s arrival was a more subdued affair.

Still, the president did greet lawmakers when he walked down the center aisle, even if he had to wave at some of them from afar. He fist-bumped Chief Justice John Roberts. And Biden hugged his former presidential rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Some members of Congress violated some of the evening’s strict health protocols, by shaking hands and sitting right next to each other to chat.

Biden served decades in the Senate, and when he reached the rostrum, he smiled and greeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and said, “It’s good to be back.”


9:05 p.m.

President Joe Biden is marking his 100th day in office with a prime-time address to Congress and he’s declaring that the United States is “turning peril into possibility.”

Biden is using his nationally televised speech to promote a $1.8 trillion spending package. He says it will fundamentally transform and expand government’s role in the lives of everyday Americans.

If Congress approves the plan, it would provide universal preschool, two years of free community college, $225 billion for child care and monthly payments of at least $250 to parents.

The president is also presenting a vision for post-pandemic life nationwide. He’s working to showcase the hundreds of millions of vaccinations and relief checks his administration has delivered, even as the coronavirus remains dangerous and deadly. The pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 574,000 Americans.


8:55 p.m.

Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are making history as the first women to share center stage in Congress during a presidential address.

Harris and Pelosi are seated behind President Joe Biden on Wednesday night for his joint address to Congress. When they greeted each other before Biden’s arrival, Harris and Pelosi clasped hands before giving each other a COVID-19-friendlier elbow bump.

Pelosi has sat at the rostrum in the House chamber before but always next to a male vice president: Dick Cheney, Biden and Mike Pence. Harris is the first female vice president in U.S. history.

Women’s advocates have said seeing Harris and Pelosi seated together behind Biden will be a “beautiful moment.” But they noted that electing a woman to sit in the Oval Office remains to be achieved, along with the addition of an equal rights amendment to the Constitution.


8:45 p.m.

Security is tight and crowd is thin at the Capitol under strict coronavirus restrictions for President Joe Biden’s address to Congress.

The first address by a president to Congress is usually an electrifying evening. But this time it’s a more subdued affair.

A few dozen lawmakers milled about the House chamber not long before Biden’s speech, and a reduced crowd of about 200 is expected. That’s compares with an audience of 1,600 members of Congress, officials and guests who typically gather for the event.

Face masks are mandatory in the House chamber. Place cards marked the seats, with just one or two lawmakers per row. Some are sitting high in the visitors’ galleries. No guests were invited.

National Guard troops protecting the Capitol since the Jan. 6 insurrection are stationed in and around the building


5:30 p.m.

The White House says President Joe Biden’s speech to Congress will call on lawmakers to lower prescription drug costs by acting this year to empower Medicare to negotiate prices.

A White House official confirmed Biden’s plan on condition of anonymity in advance of the president’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.

Medicare’s prescription drug benefit is delivered through private insurers, and the program is currently barred by law from negotiating prices directly with pharmaceutical companies.

As a candidate, Biden promised to change that, but he has yet to submit legislation to Congress. The official says Biden remains committed to working for reduced prescription drug prices.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving ahead with her plan to use expected savings from lower spending on drugs to expand Medicare benefits, capping prescription drug bills for seniors.

But Republicans are solidly opposed to Medicare negotiations, and some Senate Democrats have qualms. It’s unclear if Pelosi’s approach can get through the Senate.

— Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar


5:20 p.m.

In his first address to Congress, President Joe Biden will declare that the nation is “turning peril into possibility, crisis into opportunity.”

The White House released brief excerpts of Biden’s Wednesday night speech, which comes on the eve of his 100th day in office.

Biden is to say that he inherited the White House amid “the worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”

Biden will add: “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.”

Biden plans to use the address to unveil his push for a $1.8 trillion investment in children, families and education that would fundamentally transform the roles the government plays in American life. He is also expected to address his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, as well as call on Congress to pass gun control legislation and reforms to the nation’s immigration system.

The Associated Press

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