Biden’s first big speech to Congress is tonight. Here’s what to expect.


Just in time for Joe Biden’s 100-day mark as president, the commander-in-chief is set to give his first big speech to Congress on Wednesday night. But don’t call it a State of the Union.

While it will look and feel like a State of the Union speech, Biden — like other presidents in their first year in office — will give what’s known as an address to a joint session of Congress. The upshot, however, will be similar: The president will lay out his big priorities in a prime-time address aimed at connecting directly with voters.

High on the agenda: the “American Families Plan,” or initiatives for what some have dubbed social infrastructure.  

“The core of that [speech] will be him laying out the specifics of the American Families Plan, his commitment to child care, to education,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week, “and ensuring that there’s an investment in economic security from the federal government.”

Biden plans to present a $1.8 trillion proposal, the White House says, which includes spending on child care, paid family leave and free community college, among other things, to be paid for in part by a tax increase on the wealthy. Stocks
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turned lower on Thursday after a report that the president would seek to nearly double the capital-gains tax rate for those making $1 million or more annually.   

Read: Biden’s ‘American Families Plan’ is coming. What’s in it?

Brian Deese, the head of the National Economic Council, confirmed on Monday that Biden’s proposal would apply to taxpayers making more than $1 million a year. The plan would increase the capital gains tax to 39.6% from 20% for those earning more than $1 million annually. It also would raise the top marginal tax rate to 39.6% for households making more than $1 million.

Also see: If Biden hikes capital gains taxes on millionaires, some new investors see a ‘buying opportunity’

The families plan is split between $1 trillion in new spending and $800 billion in tax credits. It follows Biden’s proposal of a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that is still being hotly debated with congressional Republicans.

Biden on Wednesday night will also press for police reforms, in a speech that will come just over a week after former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on three counts of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

After the verdict was announced on April 20, Biden pressed Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. He’ll amplify that call on Wednesday night, Psaki said, after a promise to the Floyd family that he’ll use his “bully pulpit” to help push the measure forward.

The bill would ban chokeholds and some no-knock warrants, while aiming to make pursuing claims of police misconduct easier. The bill has passed the House but faces longer odds in the Senate. The death of Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of white officer Chauvin set off protests around the country and sparked a re-examination of racism in the U.S.

Investors may focus most on the families plan and its related tax component. But Biden’s speech — coming one day before his 100th day as president — will be broad-ranging, predicted Sarah Bianchi of Evercore ISI.

“Biden will outline his broad vision for the country including COVID, climate, racial justice and the economy,” Bianchi said in a recent note. “Biden will also touch on health care and prescription drugs, noting that they are a priority.”

Now read: Here’s where Biden stands on key goals at his 100-day mark.

While Biden’s address will be beamed across the U.S. and around the world, his in-person audience will be decidedly smaller than is typical of such an event. The House of Representatives chamber will be used for the address, as is customary, but attendance will be limited due to the ongoing pandemic. Biden will, however, be permitted to invite guests, according to the House’s second-ranking Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland. That will allow the president to continue a tradition of bringing people who may be singled out for recognition during the speech.

Read: Biden address to Congress will be missing one thing — a full house

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at the U.S. Capitol the speech in the much emptier House chamber would be different from past joint session and State of the Union speeches.

“It will be its own character. It will be its own wonderful character,” the California Democrat said.

Republicans have enlisted Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s only Black Republican, to give the GOP’s response to Biden’s speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said of Scott: “Nobody is better at communicating why far-left policies fail working Americans.” The GOP has been highly critical of Biden’s proposed tax hikes, including the corporate tax increases he proposed to fund infrastructure projects.

Also see: What has Biden gotten wrong in his first 100 days? Done right? Analysts sound off.

Republican senators played up the planned response by Scott, who has been a key player in efforts to reach a compromise on overhauling policing and is seen as a rising star in party ranks.

“I’m looking forward to hearing an uplifting and positive message about the policies that can help the American people, American workers and American families to live the American dream,” said Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.

“Of course, that will be in Sen. Scott’s response to President Biden’s address,” Thune joked.

Scott won’t be the only one giving a response. In an unusual move, Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York will speak for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Bowman, who is also Black, told NBC News that Biden has done things “that I love.” But, he said, “It’s important for us as progressives to continue to push and continue to organize.”

With tickets scarce and security tighter than usual after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, some senators are foregoing attending the speech, even if they were lucky enough to snag a ticket. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said she declined a ticket because she had gone to the presidential inauguration and thought some other GOP senator should have the chance to go to the speech.

“I want to hear him outline clearly a commitment to bipartisanship in pursuing the remainder of his agenda. I really liked his inaugural speech, but I have felt that thus far the administration has gone in a different direction,” she told reporters.

Biden’s speech is scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday night.

Jonathan Nicholson contributed to this story.



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