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Key Takeaways From Biden’s First Address To Congress

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  • 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.” 

Republican Rebuttal

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)

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

See what others are saying:  (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks

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The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.


Pelosi Vetoes Republicans

Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.

In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”

Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden. 

A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.

The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.

In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.

McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation

McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.

In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.” 

“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”

Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel. 

“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging

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The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.


GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push

In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.

Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.

Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.

“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.

The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.

Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation

There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.

While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.

“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.

Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.

Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.

Uphill Battle

While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.

Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor. 

As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.

The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not. 

Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant. 

Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Hill)

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