Jon Ossoff is used to being the center of attention. First, as a candidate in a 2017 special House election, then running in Georgia’s Senate race against Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), and now as a freshman senator. Ossoff, along with friend and peer Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), were both sworn-in on the same day as Biden after winning hugely significant runoff elections in the Peach State.
The victory by the Georgia Democrats handed Biden control of the Senate, allowing the White House to envision and attempt a much more ambitious agenda, unveiled Wednesday night in a speech to Congress. Whether Ossoff succeeds is also a test of whether Biden’s go-big message will prevail with 2022 voters.
The Georgia senators have served as the enforcers of the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan: the inclusion of $1,400 stimulus checks to many Americans hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The checks were the first economy policy-related items Biden mentioned last night. And on Thursday, in another sign of Georgia’s political relevance, the president and the first lady will visit the state.
Helping sweep the Democrats into power doesn’t mean Ossoff has avoided controversy. He has found himself in the middle of several thorny debates given his place in the 50-50 Senate, meaning every vote could mean victory — or defeat — for Biden.
Ossoff, and Warnock, have generally been reliable champions for Biden’s progressive agenda, urging swift action on the stimulus payments by arguing they had to deliver on their campaign promises. Ossoff also quietly helped broker a deal reached last month between two South Korean battery companies locked in a bitter trade dispute to avoid torpedoing one of the biggest economic investments in Georgia’s history.
- “There was a real recognition and appreciation that Rafael and I had delivered the majority and that none of this — I mean none of this — would be possible had we not prevailed,” Ossoff told The Washington Post in an interview, adding his new colleagues welcomed what he described as an “assertive and outspoken” approach to passing the stimulus package “from the new guy.”
- Read our full interview with Ossoff here.
But the 34-year-old Jewish millennial — who is up for reelection in 2026 after winning by just 1.2 points last year in a state Donald Trump still claims he won — has been criticized by activists and progressives for not calling to eliminate the filibuster entirely and they want him to ramp up efforts to assure the passage of voting rights legislation.
- Democrats “must be willing to consider changes to Senate rules to protect voting rights, and I remain open to changes to the Senate rules to protect voting rights,” he said on Wednesday. Ossoff declined to say whether he’d ask Biden to overhaul the filibuster to expand voting rights.
Happening today: “President Joe Biden will meet with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, during a swing through Georgia to celebrate his first 100 days in office, White House officials said,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Greg Bluestein reports.
- “Biden is set to visit Carter in his hometown of Plains in southwest Georgia during the trip on Thursday, which will also involve a drive-in rally at an unspecified location in metro Atlanta.”
At the White House
‘IT"S GOOD TO BE BACK’: “President Biden on Wednesday night used his first speech to a joint session of Congress to argue for a dramatic expansion of government services, making a plea for sweeping plans to provide universal preschool, free community college and expanded health care and new tax breaks for families — much of it funded for by higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans,” our colleagues Matt Viser and Tyler Pager report.
- “While he also renewed calls for an array of priorities — including immigration changes, gun control and police reform — Biden more broadly portrayed a country that is rapidly emerging from the depths of a global pandemic and has survived events that, in his view, tested American democracy as rarely before.”
- “Biden’s remarks juxtaposed a more traditional presidential cheerleading for America — a country he declared was ‘on the move again’ — with far more unusual warnings about existential threats to American democracy and references to a country that repeatedly flies flags at half-staff because of mass shootings.”
- “I took the oath of office — lifted my hand off our family Bible — and inherited a nation in crisis,” Biden said. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
- “Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” he added. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”
The speech marked a pivotal turning point in Biden's presidency, as he pitched Congress – and the country – on his ambitious legislative agenda and a much expanded role for government. The price tag for his two infrastructure packages could reach $4 trillion, to be paid for by a tax hike on corporations and wealthy individuals.
- “…the succession of costly proposals amounts to a risky gamble that a country deeply polarized along ideological and cultural lines is ready for a more activist government and the sort of redistribution of wealth long sought by progressives,” the New York Times's Peter Baker reports. “Mr. Biden’s Democrats have only the barest of majorities in the House and Senate to push through the most sweeping of legislation and, successful or not, he may have framed the terms of the debate for the next election.”
- He also “called for legislation to improve policing across the United States and to restrict access to high-powered firearms. He expressed hope that negotiations to rein in police abuses may reach bipartisan agreement and called on lawmakers to come to a deal by next month, one year after Mr. Floyd’s death, but no consensus across the aisle appears likely for meaningful gun legislation.”
- Notable was a defense of transgender people: "To all the transgender Americans watching at home — especially the young people who are so brave — I want you to know that your president has your back."
THE REPUBLICAN RESPONSE: “… Republicans on Capitol Hill were prepared to tell a different story: how a new president betrayed his campaign promises about how he would govern,” our Marianna Sotomayor and Mike DeBonis report.
- Sen. Tim Scott (R-Ga.), who have the GOP response, "slammed Democrats for not moving more swiftly to reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, praised former president Donald Trump’s efforts to develop a vaccine, declaring that Biden ‘inherited a tide that had already turned,’ criticized their approach to race relations as fighting ‘discrimination with different discrimination,’ and defended the GOP’s effort to restrict voting in numerous states after Biden’s victory.”
- “And he delivered Republicans’ central political criticism of Biden, charging that he campaigned as a uniter and a moderate but has governed as a liberal relying only on Democratic votes in Congress.”
- Scott also referenced his work on police reform – and criticized Democrats who “all seem to want the issue more than they wanted a solution."
Save the date: “Biden will meet with the four top House and Senate leaders from both parties on May 12 to discuss ‘policy areas of mutual agreement and identifying common ground,’” our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports.
- “The meeting comes after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) complained that he had not spoken to Biden since the election even though he’d requested a face-to-face meeting with the new president. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has spoken to Biden by phone a handful of times.”
In the media
MORE SPEECH REACTION: It was only a few months ago that “insurrectionists had tried to stampede through the Capitol’s doors. Police officers had to aim their guns at the doors to keep a mob of fellow Americans out of this chamber. So, it was quite something to see those doors open wide and see a President Biden walk through — living proof that our democracy held up,” our colleague Robin Givhan writes.
On the patient politician: “For more than 40 years — and after two failed presidential bids — Biden watched as the House Sergeant-at-Arms announced another president into the House chamber for speeches to Congress. On Wednesday, it was Biden's name in lights on the marquee — a testament to an extraordinary degree of political patience that few politicians can rival,” CNN’s Kevin Liptak reports.
But first, a victory lap. “Biden and his top advisers have long said that the success of his presidency will depend on how he handles the pandemic. And he started the speech ticking off some accomplishments,” our Post colleague Annie Linskey writes.
On changing the way the nation serves its people: “Taken together, the Democratic president’s proposals represent an ambitious effort to redefine the government’s role in shaping the economy. Betting that government can be a driving force for growth, the White House is shifting away from long-held assumptions within both parties that the public sector is inherently less efficient than the private and that policymakers should generally defer to markets,” the Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey and Sabrina Siddiqui report.
- Big government is back. “Seizing an opportunity born of calamity, Biden has embraced major action over incremental change. But he will be forced to thread a needle between Republicans who cry government overreach and some Democrats who fear he won’t go big enough,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Lemire and Josh Boak report.
All the president’s women. “Vice President Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history on Wednesday, marking the first time two women shared the stage sitting behind Biden during his first congressional speech,” the HuffPost’s Sanjana Karanth reports.
- “For an event that is wrapped up in pomp and circumstance, the images from such nights can leave a lasting impression. And this tableau — a visual representation that the first and second in line of presidential succession are both women — depicts the progression of women in American politics,” the Times’s Alisha Haridasani Gupta reports.
Meanwhile, as Democrats praised Biden's “vision” and “extraordinary progress,” those on the right seemed underwhelmed. “Biden gives heartfelt talks, not stirring orations. His voice sometimes descended to a near-whisper. The virus deprived him of the crackling atmosphere that usually surrounds these addresses. It was a plain-spoken speech by a plain-spoken guy,” Fox News’s Howard Kurtz reports.
- McConnell didn't even address the speech. “I am so glad the nation heard Sen. Tim Scott's (R-S.C.) outstanding Republican response to Biden’s address,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “Republicans stand for the principles and policies that unite Americans and expand opportunity for working families. Not radical agendas designed to push us apart.”
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the speech “boring, but radical.”
(it also looks like he fell asleep…)
And another Republican wished he wasn't there:
The right-wing media bashed the bigness of Biden's proposals:
From the courts
FEDS RAID GIULIANI’S APARTMENT: “Federal investigators on Wednesday seized cellphones and computers from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who became Trump’s personal lawyer, stepping up a criminal investigation into Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine,” the New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess, Maggie Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel report.
- “The execution of search warrants is an extraordinary action for prosecutors to take against a lawyer, let alone a lawyer for a former president. The move marked a major development in the long-running investigation into Giuliani, which examines some of the same people and conduct that were at the center of Trump’s first impeachment trial.”
- “It was also a remarkable moment in Giuliani’s long arc as a public figure. As mayor, Giuliani won national recognition for steering New York through the dark days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and earlier in his career, he led the same U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan that is investigating him now, earning a reputation as a hard-charging prosecutor who took on organized crime and corrupt politicians.”
- Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, told CNN’s Erica Orden and Paula Reid that the former mayor’s assistant, Jo Ann Zafonte, “received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury next month.”
Giuliani’s son, Andrew Giuliani, slammed the raid, accusing the Justice Department of ‘politiczation.’
But the White House has denied any involvement, per our colleague Eugene Scott.
TRUMP SUPPORTER FOUND GUILTY OF THREATENING TO KILL MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: “Brendan Hunt, a Trump supporter who called for killing members of Congress days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, was found guilty Wednesday of making a death threat against elected officials,” our colleague Shayna Jacobs reports.
- “The jury, which took about three hours to reach its verdict, found that comments Hunt made in a disturbing video posted online two days after the U.S. Capitol riot amounted to a genuine threat to murder lawmakers in Washington. He faces up to 10 years in prison.”
- “Although Hunt did not participate in the riot, his case is believed to be the first of those charged in connection with it to go to trial. His prosecution in Brooklyn federal court has been seen as a test of how far violent speech can go before it crosses a line into criminality and comes as such politically charged rhetoric on social media has come under increasing scrutiny.”