President Biden on Wednesday pitched his ambitious, trillion-dollar-plus investment and tax plans as he recast the role of government in American lives. He promoted his agenda in a prime-time address to the nation and a slimmed-down joint session of Congress as the pandemic imposed health restrictions in the House chamber with a smaller number of lawmakers.

In the Republican response to the president’s speech, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) credited the Trump administration and the GOP for coronavirus vaccines and the economic rebound, insisting that Biden is reaping the benefits. “This administration inherited a tide that had already turned,” Scott said.

Here’s what to know:

  • The White House announced a $1.8 trillion spending and tax plan aimed at significantly expanding access to education and safety-net programs for families.
  • The Senate voted to restore Obama-era limits on methane gas emissions, the first major congressional rebuke of former president Donald Trump’s environmental policies.
  • Federal agents executed a search warrant at the Manhattan home of Rudolph W. Giuliani for the seizure of his electronic devices as part of a long-running investigation into whether he acted as an unregistered foreign agent while acting as Trump’s lawyer.

In GOP response to Biden, Sen. Scott says America is ‘not a racist country’

3:11 a.m.
Link copied
link
In the GOP response to President Biden’s speech on April 28, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said the Biden administration “inherited a tide that had already turned." (The Washington Post)

Scott, who is the only Black Republican in the Senate, focused on race during his response to Biden’s remarks, saying that “America is not a racist country.”

The senator from South Carolina made the comment as Democrats have increasingly talked about “structural racism” and pointed out that many key U.S. policies, including housing and lending rules, have systematically targeted Black Americans and other non-White citizens. These policies have — among other problems — made it harder for minorities to accumulate wealth and increased stress, which has lead to poorer health.

Scott held up his own biography to prove that the traditional notion of the American Dream persists. “My grandfather, in his 94 years, saw his family go from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” Scott said, referencing his own roots.

He argued that Republican changes to the voting laws that Democrats have decried as racist are in fact popular with African American voters, including tighter voter ID laws.

Talking about a new voting law in Georgia, Scott said: “If you actually read this law, it’s mainstream. It will be easier to vote early in Georgia than in Democrat-run New York. But the left doesn’t want you to know that.”

The law, pushed by Republicans, imposes new identification requirements for those casting ballots by mail, curtails the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots and makes it a crime for third-party groups to hand out food and water to voters standing in line.

He also pushed back against a growing Democratic view that the filibuster is inherently racist because it was used to block civil rights legislation. Scott noted that Democrats, just last year when they were in the minority, used the procedural move to block votes.

“Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants,” Scott said. “It’s too important.”

‘Bob, how you doing? How’s mom?’: Biden, the former senator, lingers at the Capitol after his speech

2:52 a.m.
Link copied
link

Biden was done with his speech — but he wasn’t done talking.

A senator for 36 years and president of the chamber for another eight, Biden appeared to revel in being back inside the U.S. Capitol.

After delivering his first speech to a joint session of Congress, which lasted a little more than an hour, Biden hung around his old haunt, fist-bumping and handshaking the parade of lawmakers who approached the president to engage in mask-muffled chitchat occasionally overheard on C-SPAN’s live stream.

“Bob, how you doing? How’s mom?” Biden called to Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).

In another exchange, with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the two men shook hands and Biden held onto his arm for the extended back-and-forth — a signature move in his tactile style.

Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.) stopped Biden to introduce himself as “a sheriff from Texas.”

“I want to help with the criminal justice reform,” said Nehls, who served as sheriff in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston. “I want to be part of that. So I don’t know how to reach out to you, but I have the experience.”

“I’ll reach out to you,” Biden replied.

As Biden continued making his way — slowly — out of the chamber, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) banged her gavel and announced the address adjourned.

Biden lingered a few minutes more.

When he finally left, it was only to move to another room in the building, where he was to take photos with about two dozen Capitol employees.

But the moment that may have best captured Biden’s enthusiasm for being back in Congress came just a few words into his speech. He thanked the clapping audience and told them: “Good to be back … Good to be almost home.”

Biden calls on Congress to ‘end our exhausting war over immigration’

2:50 a.m.
Link copied
link

Biden called on members of Congress to take action on immigration, which he said has long been too politically divisive an issue.

“Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration,” Biden said. “For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform and we’ve done nothing about it. It’s time to fix it.”

He challenged critics who don’t like his plan to come together to “at least pass what we all agree on.” He mentioned offering protections for young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers as an example of an area where compromise was possible.

Biden only briefly mentioned the surge of migrants at the southern border, over which he has drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans.

“We also have to get at the root problem of why people are fleeing, particularly to our southern border, from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,” Biden said. “The violence, the corruption, the gangs, the political instability, hunger, hurricanes, earthquakes, natural disasters.”

He voiced confidence in Vice President Harris’s ability to tackle the issue. Biden recently announced that she would take the lead on it.

Afterward, Biden received criticism from a border state Democrat.

“While I share President Biden’s urgency in fixing our broken immigration system, what I didn’t hear tonight was a plan to address the immediate crisis at the border, and I will continue holding this administration accountable to deliver the resources and staffing necessary for a humane, orderly process as we work to improve border security, support local economies, and fix our immigration system,” Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said in a statement.

In a plea for unity, Biden insists that democracy still works

2:40 a.m.
Link copied
link
“We have to prove democracy still works,” President Biden said on April 28, calling on Congress to pass H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. (The Washington Post)

Biden finished his address with a plea for the country to come together and show that democracy still can work as a form of government and deliver accomplishments.

He referenced the Jan. 6 attack in which a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol to overturn his win and occupied the very chamber where he delivered his remarks Wednesday evening.

“The insurrection was an existential crisis — a test of whether our democracy could survive,” Biden said. “It did.”

But questions remain, and Biden framed the next phase of his presidency as a test about whether democracy can prevail and show that a representative form of government can resist partisan gridlock and act in basic areas.

“Can our democracy deliver on the most pressing needs of our people?” Biden asked. “We have to prove democracy still works. That our government still works — and can deliver for the people.”

So far, Biden has muscled his sole legislative accomplishment through Congress with only Democratic support. But his closing riff suggested he’s optimistic that some Republicans will join him in his next efforts to win Congress’s approval of his far-reaching legislation.

“It’s time we remembered that we the people are the government. You and I,” Biden said. “Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force we have no control over. It’s us. It’s ‘we the people.’ ”

The alternative, he suggested, is a win for the large dictatorships. Though he didn’t mention China, the looming superpower has shown the efficiency with which an autocratic government can rise. “The autocrats will not win the future,” Biden said. “Folks, I’ve told every world leader I’ve ever met with over the years, ‘It’s never, ever been a good bet to bet against America.’ And it still isn’t.”

Photos from the scene as Biden gives his first speech to a joint session of Congress

2:29 a.m.
Link copied
link

Biden frequently went off script in Washington’s most choreographed event

2:25 a.m.
Link copied
link

When the president said “point of personal privilege,” he was slipping into Senate-speak — and he was being serious. Biden has repeatedly looked up from his script to add a line or an anecdote, more than is typical for what can be Washington’s most choreographed event.

Biden’s “point,” for example, was an anecdote about the passage of a 2017 funding package for cancer research and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) naming it for Biden’s late son, Beau. That was not in the script. Biden also added an observation he’s made frequently, about traveling with Chinese premier Xi Jinping and seeing a threat from autocrats who thought democracies could not effectively compete with them. When discussing the White House’s climate summit last week, Biden added that his busy audience probably hadn’t watched the whole thing.

Biden added smaller flourishes to his script, usually to make lines hit harder. A reference to cars lined up at food giveaways was altered with a comment on how many were “nice cars,” not clunkers. The savings for drug price reform, scripted as “estimated to be billions of dollars” became “estimated to be billions of dollars by think tanks left, right and center.”

Biden says he’ll do everything in his power to protect Americans from gun violence

2:23 a.m.
Link copied
link
President Biden called on Congress to pass gun restrictions during his April 28 joint address. (The Washington Post)

Calling gun violence “an epidemic,” Biden made a forceful case for new gun laws, imploring lawmakers to finally do something to stop the daily American death toll from guns.

I’ll do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence,” Biden said. But it’s time for Congress to act as well.”

Talking directly to Senate Republicans, he urged more of them to join Democrats in passing universal background checks on purchases of firearms, legislation that has had support from a smattering of Republicans but never enough to pass. He also again called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“We’re not changing the Constitution; we’re being reasonable,” Biden said. “I think this is not a Democrat or Republican issue. I think it is an American issue.”

Biden urges Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by anniversary of Floyd’s killing next month

2:21 a.m.
Link copied
link
President Biden called for policing reform after the murder of George Floyd during an address to a joint session of Congress on April 28. (The Washington Post)

Biden repeated his support for policing reform and urged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by the first anniversary of Floyd’s murder next month.

“We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America,” Biden said, referencing the police killing of Floyd last year that was caught on video and sparked a worldwide uprising against racism.

The president recalled speaking with Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, at her father’s funeral. She said to Biden then: “Daddy changed the world.” Gianna was right, Biden said, adding that “now is our opportunity to make real progress.”

Biden encouraged lawmakers to “work together to find a consensus” to get the legislation to his desk by May 25 — a deadline the Floyd family, activists and other Democrats have also pushed for.

He said his support of the changes was not an indictment of all police officers, and he earned a room-wide extended standing ovation when he said that “most men and women in uniform wear their badge and serve their communities honorably.”

“I know them,” he added. “I know they want to help meet this moment as well.”

The legislation named for Floyd would ban chokeholds, prohibit racial and religious profiling, establish a national database to track police misconduct and bar certain no-knock warrants. It also has provisions to make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court.

Biden calls for extension of upgraded Affordable Care Act premium subsidies

2:08 a.m.
Link copied
link

Biden called for preserving upgraded federal subsidies to help Americans afford monthly insurance premiums if they buy health plans through Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

On April 1, subsidies were increased and offered to people with higher incomes — for the first time since insurance became available in 2014 for people who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job.

The larger subsidies are due to last for two years under the coronavirus relief legislation Biden signed into law last month. “Let’s make that provision permanent so their premiums don’t go back up,” the president said in his Wednesday night speech.

Biden took credit for reopening the ACA’s federal insurance marketplaces outside the normal enrollment season. He said 800,000 Americans had signed up for coverage during his first 100 days in office. He did not mention that the figure is significantly less than the 8.2 million people who signed up during the most recent six-week open enrollment that ended in mid-December.

He also said he would work with Congress this year to lower the United States’ high prescription drug costs through an idea Democrats have advocated for years: allowing the federal Medicare program to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies the prices of medications used by older Americans. “The money we save, which is billions of dollars, can go to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare coverage benefits without costing taxpayers an additional penny,” he said.

However, the president did not mention other significant parts of his health-care platform from his presidential campaign. Nowhere in the speech did he talk of lowering the age at which Americans can join Medicare from 65 to 60. Nor did he talk of creating a government alternative to the private health plans sold through ACA marketplaces.

Biden makes a populist pitch on tax increases

2:04 a.m.
Link copied
link
President Biden on April 28 said he'll impose tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, adding that the middle class is "already paying enough." (The Washington Post)

Biden plans to pay for his roughly $4 trillion of new spending with a slew of new taxes, which he pitched Wednesday evening using the language of a populist.

He repeated a promise not to raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000 a year. That leaves the wealthiest individuals and large companies feeling the brunt of his ideas. “It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans to pay their fair share,” Biden said. “Just pay their fair share.”

The top individual tax rate will go up to 39.6 percent, he said. “That’s where it was when George W. Bush became president,” Biden noted.

“And, we’re going to reward work, not wealth,” he said, a reference to his plan to increase taxes on capital gains. He said he will increase funding to the Internal Revenue Service for enforcement for rich individuals and sophisticated companies that at times abuse loopholes.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pitched a similar idea during the 2020 primary campaign. Though his rhetoric at times sounded like it could have come from a speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Warren, Biden ad libbed an aside that reiterated that he’s distinct from that wing of his party. He noted that unlike others in his party — a reference to the liberals — he does not believe in taxing billionaires out of existence.

Biden appeals for lower prescription drug costs, yet White House omitted a provision to do just that from the American Families Plan

2:02 a.m.
Link copied
link
On April 28, President Biden outlined the American Families Plan, which would fund additional public education and expand family leave, among other provisions. (The Washington Post)

Biden repeatedly stressed the importance of lowering prescription drug costs for Americans — even as the White House removed a measure from a proposed spending and tax plan that would do just that.

“Let’s lower prescription drug costs,” Biden said during his address. “We all know how outrageously expensive they are. In fact, we pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world right here in America — nearly three times as much as other countries. We can change that.”

The president said Medicare should have the power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices.

“That won’t just help people on Medicare — it will lower prescription drug costs for everyone,” Biden said.

Yet in the days leading up to his speech, Democratic leaders had lobbied the Biden administration to include a measure requiring cuts to prescription drug costs in the American Families Plan but were unsuccessful.

Last week, when White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the prescription drug change, she said the proposal “will not represent the totality of every proposal he wants to achieve during the course of his presidency.”

Biden warns that China wants to be most powerful in the world, says U.S. must compete

1:55 a.m.
Link copied
link
Here are the moments President Biden focused on foreign policy during his first address to Congress on April 28. (The Washington Post)

Biden warned lawmakers that they have to work harder and work together to make the United States competitive in the world and not cede the 21st century to China, calling it an “inflection point in history.”

Look, we can’t be so busy competing with one another that we forget the competition we have with the rest of the world to win the 21st century,” Biden said.

He said that in conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, it’s clear that Xi is “deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world.”

Autocrats don’t believe, Biden added, that democracies can compete because consensus takes too long.

China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future,” Biden warned. The rest of the world is not waiting for us. I just want to be clear: From my perspective, doing nothing is not an option.”

Biden channels Bernie Sanders on health care — to a point

1:53 a.m.
Link copied
link

“Health care should be a right, not a privilege in America,” Biden said. It was a line that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), his onetime presidential primary rival, often used on the campaign trail.

Biden has won plaudits from liberals for some of his early policies, and his line on health care could draw more praise from activists and lawmakers.

Still, there remain differences between Biden and Sanders. While Sanders favors a Medicare-for-all system, Biden does not. The president advocates expanding the Affordable Care Act, as he said on the campaign trail and in Wednesday’s speech.

Biden casts his infrastructure plan as support for American workers

1:43 a.m.
Link copied
link
President Biden on April 28 called on Congress to pass the American Jobs Plan and touted legislation to expand union protections and to raise the minimum wage. (The Washington Post)

Biden cast his $2.2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan as a package that’s aimed at bolstering the country’s working class.

“Independent experts estimate the American Jobs Plan will add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in economic growth for years to come,” Biden said. He added that the positions that will be created are “good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

Borrowing from a campaign riff that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made famous when she first ran for the Senate, Biden stressed that the middle class was built by unions.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” Biden said. “The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class.” He also reiterated his support for the PRO Act, which is a top priority for labor unions because it expands protections for organizing. And he pledged, again, to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Biden included a proposal to hike the minimum wage to $15 in his pandemic relief package, but the proposal was abandoned when the measure ran into a procedural hurdle. The inclusion of the pledge in this address suggests he’s going to try again.