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Biden to Address Joint Session of Congress

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to discuss his goal of engaging with other nations and taking a leadership role on the world stage as he gives an address Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress.

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said ahead of the speech that Biden’s comments on foreign policy would include “taking America’s seat back in the world, what our values are as a country.”  She said the president would likely talk about a number of foreign policy priorities, “including our engagement with China.” 

The Biden administration’s push to work more with allies, which this month included coordinating with fellow NATO members on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, is a departure from four years of foreign policy under former President Donald Trump that focused on prioritizing U.S. interests. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Biden to the House chamber to speak about “vision for addressing the challenges and opportunities of this historic moment,” in a speech that comes as the president marks 100 days since taking office. 

Psaki said the main policy initiative Biden will highlight is a domestic program for “investment in education and childcare.”

President Joe Biden removes his face mask to speak about COVID-19, on the North Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, April 27,…
President Joe Biden removes his face mask to speak about COVID-19, on the North Lawn of the White House, April 27, 2021, in Washington.

The proposal involves $1.8 trillion in spending over 10 years that includes universal preschool, two years of free community college, subsidized childcare for qualifying families, monthly payments of at least $250 for parents and expanding availability of free and reduced-fee school lunches.  Administration officials say Biden is proposing to largely pay for the initiatives with tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.   

Psaki said Biden will also discuss the administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment, as well as immigration, police reform and gun safety.  

The administration is planning the speech as a launching point to seek support for Biden’s initiatives, with the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and members of Biden’s Cabinet planning to travel to different parts of the country for events on Thursday and Friday. 

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Republicans will seek to counter Biden’s message with a rebuttal speech Wednesday by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. 

Typically, a presidential speech before a joint session of Congress would include an invited audience of the 535 members of the House and Senate, the vice president, Cabinet members, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Supreme Court justices, members of the diplomatic corps, and a number of special guests sitting with the first lady, some whom the president notes in the speech as a way of highlighting a certain policy. 

Wednesday’s audience will be more restricted.  Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to be the only justice in attendance. Psaki also said there will not be the traditional box of seating with first lady Jill Biden and guests, and that Cabinet members will be watching the speech from home. 

Not having Cabinet members in the House chamber also eliminates another tradition linked to presidential addresses.  In order to ensure continuity of government in case of a disaster, one Cabinet member is typically selected to stay away from the Capitol so that high-level officials are not all in the same place. 

Wednesday’s speech will be conducted under heavy security, with a ring of fencing still standing in the immediate area surrounding the Capitol following the January 6 storming of the site by Trump supporters.  Security has eased somewhat in Washington since the attack, with a more extensive perimeter fence on Capitol Hill and another temporary fence extending beyond the White House complex now removed. 

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