- In his first joint remarks before Congress Wednesday, President Biden reflected on his initial 100 days in office and pressed the legislature to move forward with a large expansion of government spending.
- Biden argued that his two cornerstone proposals, the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and the $1.8 American Families Plan, are necessary to support the American people and allow the U.S. to compete with foreign nations.
- Democrats largely applauded his remarks and reiterated their support for Biden’s plans, but Republicans accused the president of betraying his promise to seek compromise by promoting “radical” policies that will further divide America.
Biden Outlines Cornerstone Policies
President Joe Biden gave his first joint speech before Congress Wednesday night, delivering remarks on the eve of completing his first 100 days in office.
The president relayed the 65-minute long speech while flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who made history by marking the first-ever time that two women have sat behind the president during a congressional address.
Biden opened by reflecting on his first 100 days in office during a pandemic, noting how far the country has come in regards to vaccinations, and striking an optimistic tone.
“Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” he said. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”
However, the president also argued that progress needed to be followed up with a dramatic expansion of government services, and he called on Congress to embrace his vision.
“America is moving. Moving forward. And we can’t stop now,” he said. “We’re in a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better.”
As for how Biden will achieve that goal, he spent much of his speech detailing his two big plans. The first is the $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal he unveiled last month, which includes $621 billion for transportation projects like bridges, roads, mass transit, and electric vehicle development, among other things.
The second is the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which was rolled out hours before the address and largely aims to expand safety-net programs, as well as access to education.
In total, Biden outlined nearly $6 trillion in proposed spending, though $4 trillion is on top of what Congress has already approved under the last stimulus package.
Plea for Bipartisan Support
While acknowledging his plans may seem like a tall order to his Republican colleagues, Biden framed his policy aims as necessary to compete with other countries and argued that the U.S. should provide these policies because it is falling behind globally.
The president encouraged Republicans to share their ideas and said he was open to compromise, but he indicated he would take action without them if necessary.
“The rest of the world isn’t waiting for us,” he said. “I just want to be clear. From my perspective, doing nothing is not an option.”
Biden specifically singled out China and its president, Xi Jinping, as key challengers to American competition and global democratic values.
“He’s deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world,” Biden said of Xi. “He and other autocrats think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies — it takes too long to get consensus. To win that competition for the future, in my view, we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families and our children.”
The president also closed his speech by circling back to the need for American democracy to compete with authoritarian governments. While he did not directly mention former President Donald Trump, he did tie the Jan 6. insurrection to rising authoritarianism in other parts of the world, and he emphasized the need for the U.S. to set an example to counter that trend through its agenda at home.
“In closing, as we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol, desecrating our democracy, remain vivid in all our minds,” he said. “The insurrection was an existential crisis –- a test of whether our democracy could survive. And it did.”
“Autocrats will not win the future. We will,” Biden continued. “America will. And the future belongs to America.”
While Democrats largely praised Biden’s agenda and reiterated their support for his plans, Republicans condemned the president for proposing what they said were “radical” plans and failing to united people.
That narrative was also echoed in the formal rebuttal to Biden’s address, which was given by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican senator, who accused the president of giving up on his promise to seek compromise in favor of a partisan agenda.
Scott claimed that many of the actions Biden touted had been achieved under GOP control, and that Trump and Republicans are to thank for the pandemic finally turning a corner.
“Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines,” he stated. “Thanks to our bipartisan work last year, job openings are rebounding.”
The senator also called Biden’s infrastructure plan “a liberal wish list of big-government waste,” and made similar remarks about the families plan before accusing Biden of “abandoning principles he held for decades.”
“Nowhere do we need common ground more desperately than in our discussions of race,” he added. He went on to detail all the racism he has faced but added, “Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination.”
Scott appeared to then imply that the expansion of voting rights Biden and Democrats are pushing in response to state election bills are a form of discrimination, while also fervently defending the widely criticized Georgia voting bill.
“This is not about civil rights or our racial past. It’s about rigging elections in the future,” he said, before concluding, “Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams. It will come from you, the American people.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.