President Biden told Congress on Wednesday night that "America is on the move again," as he touted his administration's work to end the coronavirus crisis and urged lawmakers to work together to prove "that our government still works — and can deliver" for the American people.
"As I stand here tonight, we are just one day shy of the 100th day of my administration," Biden said in remarks to lawmakers that ran just over an hour. "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."
Read NPR reporters' annotation of Biden's remarks.
Biden used his address on the eve of his 100th day in office to make the case for huge new investments and tax reforms to overhaul the U.S. economy and rebuild the middle class. The American Families Plan (AFP), the latest addition to the president's economic recovery pitch, would dedicate $1.8 trillion to family care and education.
"We guarantee that low- to middle-income families will pay no more than 7% of their income for high-quality care for children up to the age of 5. The most hard-pressed working families won't have to spend a dime," Biden said, touting the AFP, which would also provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
"No one should have to choose between a job and paycheck or taking care of themselves and a loved one — a parent, spouse or child."
Biden said this plan would be funded by increasing taxes on the nation's top earners, who he said do not contribute a fair share of their earnings as compared to working-class families.
Biden also discussed his efforts to create sustainable jobs for the middle class. The president said Vice President Harris would help lead initiatives under the American Jobs Plan, which he said would help millions of Americans, particularly women, re-enter the workforce and create jobs in clean energy and upgrading infrastructure.
"Two million women have dropped out of the workforce during this pandemic. Two million. And too often because they couldn't get the care they needed to care for their child, or care for an elderly parent who needs help," Biden said, expressing his support for the nation's caregivers.
The administration's work in vaccinating more than 140 million people in the U.S. with at least one dose, as well as distributing financial relief to households, are among what Biden views as his biggest achievements during his first 100 days in office.
The president said, "we have acted to restore the people's faith in our democracy to deliver."
"We're vaccinating the nation. We're creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. We're delivering real results to people — they can see it and feel it in their own lives. Opening doors of opportunity. Guaranteeing some more fairness and justice," Biden told the joint session.
Biden faces a deeply divided Congress to press his agenda. Issues of taxation and government spending are some of the biggest stumbling blocks he'll face, particularly in the Senate, where the parties are divided 50 Republicans to 50 Democrats, with Democrats holding a slim, technical majority in the chamber.
America's racial divide
Biden spoke about the importance of reforming police and rooting out systemic racism, which he has described as a stain on the fabric of America.
"We have to come together to heal the soul of this nation," Biden said, invoking the memory of George Floyd — a Black man whose murder at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked major protests across the country and internationally against racism and police brutality.
"We've all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America. Now is our opportunity to make some real progress," he said.
"We have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve. To root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system. And to enact police reform in George Floyd's name that passed the House already," he continued, calling on the Congress to reach a bipartisan agreement on reform by the Memorial Day anniversary of Floyd's death.
Republican response: "America is not a racist country"
Sen. Tim Scott, the chamber's only Black Republican, delivered his party's reaction to Biden's speech, defending the GOP, and America at large, against accusations of racism.
"Nowhere do we need common ground more desperately than in our discussions of race," said Scott, who is a leading figure among Republicans on the issue of police reform.
Scott said he had personally "experienced the pain of discrimination," but he accused Democrats of exaggerating the issue of racism, particularly as it pertains to voting rights and white supremacy.
Read NPR reporters' annotation of Biden's remarks.
"Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It's backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination," he said.
"Race is not a political weapon to solve every issue like one side wants."
Republicans, who have long faced criticism of supporting racist and exclusionary politics, have in recent months more loudly rallied against what they decry as "cancel culture" and the idea of critical race theory, which many in the party say unfairly maligns white Americans as oppressors of racial minorities.
Scott also criticized the president's response to the coronavirus pandemic, describing Biden's policies as overly restrictive and unhelpful.
"Locking vulnerable kids out of the classroom is locking adults out of their future. Our public schools should have reopened months ago. Other countries' did. Private and religious schools did. Science has shown for months that schools are safe," said Scott, who was raised in a single-parent, working-class household.
"But too often, powerful grownups set science aside. And kids like me were left behind."
The issue of reopening schools amid the pandemic has been one of the most divisive issues across party lines. Republicans have pushed for students to return to the classroom in order to help ease the strain on the economy, while Democrats largely have been more cautious, stressing public health concerns.
"This administration inherited a tide that had already turned. The coronavirus is on the run," Scott said.
"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. So why do we feel so divided and anxious?"