WASHINGTON – In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden both looked back on his first 100 days in office and laid out a vision for the future of his administration, from talking about increasing taxes on the rich, to urging Congress to take action on gun violence and police reform.
“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,” Biden said. “But in America, we never stay down.”
The president focused on goals he achieved during his first 100 days in office, a milestone he will pass on Friday. The benchmark, while arbitrary, has been a standard by which presidents have held themselves accountable for delivering on policy priorities since Franklin D. Roosevelt first coined the phrase.
Here are some of the top takeaways from Biden’s address Wednesday:
A call for police reform after conviction of Derek Chauvin
The week after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose death sparked waves of protest against racism and police brutality across the nation, Biden pushed for police reform.
He urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims to bolster police accountability and ban certain maneuvers that have led to the deaths of Black Americans.
“Let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death,” Biden said. Floyd died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020.
To applause, Biden said he believes the vast majority of law enforcement officials are good people who “serve their communities honorably,” but said systemic racism in the criminal justice system needs to be addressed.
He recalled speaking with Floyd’s young daughter Gianna after his death.
“As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye to eye, she said to me, ‘Daddy changed the world,’” he said. “After the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, we can see how right she was – if – if we have the courage to act.”
A historic evening for women in politics
For the first time in history, two women stood behind the president as he delivered a joint address to Congress. Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to be elected to that position, stood alongside Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the first woman elected as speaker in 2007.
“Madam speaker, madam vice president,” Biden said when he arrived at the podium. “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”
The two women greeted each other with an elbow bump when they arrived, a standard greeting during the coronavirus pandemic. They each wore a mask during Biden’s address.
Women serving in Congress told USA TODAY that having Harris and Pelosi in those seats is a historic moment and an important example of representation of women in leadership roles.
“It’s critical that girls across the country see women at the highest levels of government and know that they too can serve as Vice President and Speaker of the House,” said Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis, the first woman from Wyoming elected to the Senate.
Biden urges reinstatement of assault weapons ban, reauthorization of VAWA
Biden pressed lawmakers to take urgent action on gun violence in the country, which he called an “epidemic,” in the wake of multiple deadly shootings this year. He asked Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, recalling his efforts to do so in 1994 as a senator from Delaware.
He called for the passage of two House bills, aimed at strengthening background checks on gun purchases, that don’t have enough support from Republicans in the Senate to pass in the evenly divided chamber.
He also urged the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act aimed at reducing domestic and sexual violence. The law includes a provision preventing people convicted of abusing dating partners from buying or owning guns.
“It’s estimated that more than 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner – every month in America,” Biden said. “Pass it and save lives.”
The president recognized the victims of recent mass shootings, and promised that he would do everything in his power to “protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence.” He urged Republicans and Democrats to work together on passing gun control legislation.
“Our flag at the White House was still flying at half staff for the eight victims of the mass shooting in Georgia when 10 more lives were taken in a mass shooting in Colorado,” Biden said. “In the week between those mass shootings, more than 250 other Americans were shot dead.”
Biden calls tax hikes on rich ‘fiscally responsible’
Biden urged Congress to raise taxes on the rich and corporations, saying they need to pay their fair share.
“I’m not looking to punish anyone,” he said. “What I’ve proposed is fair. It’s fiscally responsible.”
In his plea to lawmakers, Biden has said that raising the taxes on the wealthy would pay for his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, a sweeping package that includes paid family leave, free community college, subsidized child care and other proposals to expand the nation’s social safety net.
Biden again said that he would not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year.
“They’re already paying enough,” he said.
‘Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration’
Immigration has shrouded Biden’s first 100 days, as his administration has struggled to deal with a dramatic increase of migrant children, families and single adults at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But the president didn’t focus on the border challenges his administration faced Wednesday night. Instead, he focused on urging Congress to pass his comprehensive immigration legislation, which would create a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million people living in the United States without citizenship.
“If you actually want to solve the problem – I have sent you a bill, take a close look at it,” Biden said of his immigration bill.
Biden also noted that if Congress doesn’t pass his bill, he would like to see them pass some sort of immigration legislation that would create a pathway for at least Dreamers, farm workers and protections for those with temporary protected status.
“The country supports immigration reform. Let’s act,” Biden said
Biden also highlighted Vice President Harris’ role in addressing the root causes of why migrants from Central America are coming to the United States.
“We also have to get at the root of the problem of why people are fleeing to our southern border from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador,” Biden said, adding that they restarted a program that would give aid to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. “When I was Vice President, I focused on providing the help needed to address these root causes of migration. It helped keep people in their own countries instead of being forced to leave.”
Biden celebrates vaccine milestones: ‘Go get vaccinated, America’
Biden celebrated his administration passing its goal of delivering 200 million COVID-19 vaccines in his first 100 days in office, calling the ongoing vaccination effort one of the greatest “logistical achievements this country has ever seen. He urged all Americans to get a vaccine, noting everyone over the age of 16 is now eligible to receive one.
“Go get vaccinated, America, go and get the vaccination. They’re available,” he said.
Biden said that over 90% of Americans now live within 5 miles of a vaccination site.
He took credit for the increase in availability of vaccines and the vaccinations given to the most vulnerable, noting that 1% of seniors had been vaccinated when he took office and now over 70% are “fully protected.”
“Senior deaths from COVID-19 are down 80% since January,” he said, adding that over half of all American adults have received at least one dose.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 32 million and caused the deaths of nearly 575,000 people in the U.S.