On Wednesday night, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress, laying out an aggressive expansion of government’s role in American life.
Todd Gillman is Washington bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News. He told Texas Standard that the speech looked different than previous presidential speeches to Congress and State of the Union addresses. For one thing, only 200 people, socially distanced throughout the House chamber, and all wearing masks, attended. The diversity of the dais was notable, too.
“You had a vice president and a speaker of the House who are women,” Gillman said. “We’ve had Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi behind presidents before, but never a vice president who was female and a woman of color at that.”
Gillman notes that Biden is not an orator in the style of some past presidents. His rhetoric was more “boring, kind of pedestrian” for the most part, he said. But it also “concealed a very aggressive policy agenda.”
That low-key style has its advantages, he says.
“It was harder for Republicans to lay a glove on him as, ‘Oh my God, he is reshaping America into a socialist nirvana or something like that,'” Gillman said. “It all came across very, very reasonable.”
Biden said taxpayers making under $400,000 a year would not see an increase in their taxes, while wealthy people and corporations would. Gillman says tax increases are not popular, and that Republicans have done a good job at demonizing them over the years. He thinks the GOP may have a more difficult time making its case against Biden’s cuts. He says Biden’s argument was effective.
“What Biden is talking about is a much more targeted attack on the wealthy – those making above $400,00 a year, and taxing capital gains, which only affects the most wealthy,” Gillman said.
Biden laid out an ambitious program of government spending in areas from education to rural broadband expansion. It’s certain to draw criticism from Republicans, both because of the expanded role of government and its cost. Gillman says Biden believed it was important to both lay out his agenda and describe where the money would come from.
“He also believes in his heart, as a longtime legislative leader, that you have to lay out the case for things and how to pay for them,” Gillman said.
And the message is aimed at attracting public support, not appealing to Republicans in Congress.
“A speech like this is not aimed at the grumpy faces in the crowd, like Ted Cruz,” Gillman said. “It’s aimed at the audience and the constituents of Ted Cruz who might put pressure on him and other senators.”