President Joe Biden’s first joint speech in Congress was strange, due to the pandemic, but also a return to political monotony.
President Joe Biden’s first joint speech to Congress could not be more different than the one given by his predecessor just over a year ago.
Biden’s hopeful rhetoric on Wednesday echoed in an almost empty – and totally masked – chamber in yet another mark of the pandemic that has plagued the country for 14 months. Instead of colorful guests coming from home, the Casa’s galleries were reserved for socially distant lawmakers, only a fraction of whom could attend the speech in person.
It is not just the pandemic. For half a mile in either direction, the Capitol was a fortress with police blocking the roads and a fence still erected around the building looted by protesters nearly four months ago. National Guard troops patrolled virtually every entrance, as well as more security within the chamber itself – a stark reminder of this year’s deadly insurrection, more than 100 days earlier.
But in other ways, Biden’s first speech in Congress represented a return to political monotony for the dozens of senior lawmakers sitting in front of him after four years of Donald Trump. The carefully scripted speech – laden with political jargon and subtle openings for major party factions – is a radical departure from Trump’s hyperbolic claims and surprises made for TV, like the meeting of military spouses in the middle of last year’s speech or the kudos to the late radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Instead, the most viral moment in Biden’s speech may have been a sleepy senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) captured by the C-SPAN camera.
“It was weird,” explained Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) Later. She said it was difficult to understand Biden during the speech. “He spoke very softly, I also think about it a lot. Very low energy. It was a disjointed wish list. “
Biden nodded at the strange scenery, the empty seats and the masks across the Chamber.
“Although tonight’s scenario is familiar, this meeting is a little different. A reminder of the extraordinary times we live in, ”said Biden as he spoke in the chamber, where even senior senators sat in the corners of the upper gallery, separated by three seats.
“It was very strange to be in the Chamber of Deputies. Even as a member of the Chamber, I never sat in the gallery ”, said Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “But it was so normal to hear someone give the common address … that he was trying to lead the country and not stick his finger in the eye on the other side.”
Lawmakers, almost all of whom were vaccinated, could not withstand shocks of fists and handshakes while meeting in a bicameral form for the first time since the election results were approved on January 6.
Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) Sought out the Senate minority political leader, Mitch McConnell, for a handshake and a quick word as McConnell entered the Chamber of Deputies. She also tampered with Biden while he entered the chamber. And Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Embraced Brother Biden as he walked to the pulpit.
Still, the coronavirus remained one of the biggest procedural hurdles for Capitol officials while planning the speech. All members who were in there faced strict rules to enter – proof of vaccination from Covid or a test within 48 hours. Even lawmakers who abandoned their masks in the past few days, like Cruz or Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Had their prey on their way to the Chamber of Deputies.
Even in a year in which relations between runners have declined since the January 6 uprising, Biden’s speech has seen nothing of the political vitriol that accompanied Trump’s most recent speech in Congress. Trump made that speech the day before the Senate absolved him of several charges made by House Democrats, and relations were so icy between him and spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi that Trump refused to shake his hand. The speaker tore his copy of the president’s speech to the cameras immediately after he finished.
Biden’s heavy speech was largely conceived as a sales pitch for his ambitious infrastructure and social program proposals – including a nearly $ 4 trillion spending plan that was revealed on Wednesday.
But it was also a long-awaited celebration for Democrats, who welcomed Biden to his first major face-to-face event in Hill since he became president, after more than a year of Zoom’s campaign. It was also a chance to celebrate the party’s success after passing a $ 2 trillion pandemic recovery project last month, without a single Republican Party vote. Biden repeatedly praised the bill in his speech
“This may be the first joint address that covered vaccines, but I am very happy that it did. And it made me feel really good, ”said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Republican disinterest, or in some cases, disdain, for Biden’s agenda was clear on Wednesday. Republican Party lawmakers were impassive as the president laid out his plans for a gigantic spending plan that would reverse some of his own tax cuts to pay for it. There were some exceptions, of course, including ending cancer – a phrase that drew bipartisan applause.
“I’m trying to think about what the Republicans applauded. Buy America, some other things, ”said Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.). But when Biden said ‘don’t bet against America’, I think even Kevin McCarthy was on his feet.
There was little enthusiasm among Republicans when Biden called for bipartisan action on issues ranging from police brutality to gun control, LGBT rights and the protection of Dreamers. Overall, it was again an opportunity for Republicans to question Biden’s commitment to bipartisanship.
“He already said that: you have to judge people not by their words, but by their actions. Therefore, we will soon find out if he is sincere, ”said Senate minority minister John Thune.
Biden’s challenges were also clear on his own side. His requests for a $ 15 hourly minimum wage, for example, drew strong applause from the floor, although the policy is not supported by eight members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Democrats also stood up and applauded loudly when Biden asked Medicare to negotiate drug prices – although his government received complaints in particular after leaving him out of his bid on Wednesday.
Still, some things have remained the same. Democratic MP Rosa DeLauro – Biden’s longtime friend – was one of the first to pull him aside after the speech for a chat. The majority of the House, Steny Hoyer, spent several minutes talking to the appropriating colleague, Deputy Tom Cole (R-Okla.) Before the speech. A group of House Democrats who call themselves “pink ladies” was seen taking selfies.
“There were 200 people in the chamber, and there are usually 1400, to give an idea of the contrast it was,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “There was energy, but there weren’t many players in the room.”