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Biden to Congress: step up

WASHINGTON — In his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, President Joe Biden laid out more details of his agenda, including a huge jobs-creating effort that he called “a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”

Coming as he approached his first 100 days in office, Biden had already laid out a broad skeleton of it. Doing so enabled him to hit the ground running and to boast that the task had already begun, requiring Congress now to make it a reality.

He spoke before an uncommonly limited audience in the House chamber, dictated by the safety precautions against COVID-19 infection. Biden took advantage of the timing to shift the focus onto the closely divided legislative branch, urging it to bring his very ambitious plans to fruition.

In a clever communications scheme that cast his program in terms the average American could identify, Biden labeled its principal elements the American Recovery Plan, the American Jobs Plan and the American Family Plan.

In keeping with Democratic Party orthodoxy and anticipating the usual Republican pushback against taxing the rich and big business to pay for it, Biden stipulated: “Wall Street did not build this country. The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class.”

It was now up to it to “build back better” after he inherited “a nation in crisis.” He enumerated the outlines of that crisis: “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” The latter, of course, was a clear reference to the insurrection against the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The new president uttered the charge without any mention of former President Donald Trump, who had openly called for protesters to march on the Capitol. Trump promised to join them but then retreated to the safety of the White House to watch it unfold on television.

Biden also took due note of the sharp divisions in the country in the aftermath, but added, “Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again turning peril into possibility, crisis to opportunity, setbacks into strength.”

In so saying, in a sense he seemed to acknowledge that his own election was also a national referendum on putting the Trump nightmare behind the country.

At the same time, Biden addressed America’s quest to restore her once-strong reputation abroad, citing autocratic leaders in China and elsewhere who doubt our ability to survive.

“They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage,” he said. “They look at the images of the mob that assaulted the Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. But they are wrong. You know it; I know it. But we have to prove them wrong.

We have to prove democracy still works — that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.”

Biden said on his return to Capitol Hill that “it’s great to be back.” It was also was a chance to show himself as being “presidential” as well as the regular Joe his fellow legislators had known for so long. In all, it was an effective reintroduction to them, and to the rest of the country and the world beyond.

(Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.)

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