Biden delivers first joint address to Congress

By Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 12:08 p.m. ET, April 29, 2021
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10:23 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Biden wants to end the country's "exhausting war over immigration"

President Biden called immigration "essential to America" tonight while calling on lawmakers to take action on behalf of countless people eager for a pathway to citizenship.

"Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration," Biden said during his first joint address to Congress. "For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform and done nothing about it. It’s time to fix it."

Biden's immigration challenge: Biden has moved to reverse many of his predecessor's anti-immigration policies, the consequences of those restrictive measures linger and have contributed to��a massive backlog of nearly 2.6 million visa applications.

The backlog includes nearly half a million applicants who are "documentarily qualified" and ready for interviews, according to a recent legal filing by the State Department.

Backlogs in some immigrant-visa categories are 50 or even 100 times higher than they were four years ago, at the start of the Trump administration.

Some of the backlogs are due to restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But some also spring from pre-pandemic Trump policies or actions that the Biden administration hasn't unwound.

The Biden administration is still reviewing or hasn't fully reversed some measures that slow or block processing, such as heightened background checks and questionable terrorism designations.

Watch the moment:

10:22 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Citing George Floyd, Biden urges Congress to act on police reform

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

 Melina Mara/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
 Melina Mara/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden this evening urged lawmakers to take advantage of momentum created by the conviction of Derek Chauvin and pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act for police reform. 

Recounting one of his meetings with Floyd's daughter, Gianna, in which she told him "my Daddy changed the world," Biden said now is the time for lawmakers to act.

"After the conviction of George Floyd's murderer, we can see how right she was if we have the courage to act in Congress," said Biden.

"We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans," he continued. "Now is our opportunity to make some real progress."

Biden then went on to praise most law enforcement officers in the nation, who he said also want to see reform.

"The vast majority of men and women in uniform wear their badge and serve their communities honorably," he said receiving a standing ovation 

"I know they want to help meet this moment as well," he added.

10:14 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Biden: Putin understands "while we don't seek escalation ... their actions will have consequences"

From CNN's DJ Judd

President Biden offered stern words for Russian President Vladimir Putin in remarks to a joint session of Congress Wednesday.

“With regard to Russia, I know it concerns some of you, but I made very clear to President Putin that while we don’t seek ... escalation, but their actions will have consequences if they turn out to be true, and they turned out to be true," Biden told telling lawmakers gathered in the House chamber.

Earlier this month, Biden’s administration targeted Russia with sweeping sanctions and diplomatic expulsions, punishing Moscow for its interference in the 2020 US election, its SolarWinds cyberattack and its ongoing occupation and "severe human rights abuses" in Crimea.

In remarks announcing the sanctions, Biden said they served as a proportionate response, but also emphasized that "now is the time to de-escalate" tensions with the country.

“So I responded directly and proportionately to Russia’s interference in our elections and cyber-attacks on our government and our businesses – they did both of these things, and I told them we would respond and we have. But we can also cooperate when it’s in our mutual interests,” Biden said tonight, pointing to cooperation between the two nations on nuclear de-proliferation and climate change, before adding that Putin now “understands, we will respond.”

1:07 a.m. ET, April 29, 2021

Biden thanks Senate for passing anti-Asian hate crimes bill and urges House to do the same

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden thanked Congress for passing the Covid-19 related hate crimes bill aimed at addressing the increase of violent crimes aimed at Asian Americans during the pandemic.

"You see on television the viciousness of the hate crimes we have seen over the past year and for too long. I urge the House to do the same and send the legislation to my desk which I will glad and anxiously will sign," Biden said.

The President also urged Congress to pass the Equality Act to protect the LGBTQ community so that he can sign it into law.

"All transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people, who are so brave, I want you to know that your President has your back," Biden said.

1:09 a.m. ET, April 29, 2021

Biden just referenced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Here's what the legislation would do.

From CNN's Clare Foran

President Biden just urged Congress to act on police reform, referencing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which already passed the US House of Representatives. It now needs a debate and a vote in the US Senate.

"My fellow Americans, we have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system and to enact police reform in George Floyd's name that passed the House already," Biden said.

"I know Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in a very productive discussion with Democrats in the Senate. We need to work together to find a consensus, but let's get it done next month by the first anniversary of George Floyd's death," he added.

According to the legislation's fact sheet, the bill would "save lives by banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants" and would mandate "deadly force be used only as a last resort."

In the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict, many of Floyd's family members, leaders and activists and Biden said that now is the time to continue to push that legislation forward. Supporters of the bill say it would improve law enforcement accountability and work to root out racial bias in policing.

Here's what the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would do:

  1. Ban chokeholds. While many police agencies say they don't train their officers to use chokeholds, they are still used. The legal standard for the use of chokeholds is vague, making it difficult to prosecute officers who abuse this use of force
  2. Ban no-knock warrants. The no-knock warrant allows officers to break into homes without warning.
  3. Create a duty to intervene. When police officers see another officer using excessive force, the witnessing officers would be required to intervene. 
  4. Create a public registry. The law establishes a national police misconduct registry available to the public. This would stop officers from evading consequences for their actions by moving to another jurisdiction.
  5. End qualified immunity: Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects government officials from being held personally liable for violations – for example, when police use excessive force. Ending qualified immunity would mean that, if a police officer breaks the law, that officer would be held accountable

Democrats now control the Senate, which has a 50-50 partisan split with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tie breaker. But most legislation in that chamber still requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and it's not clear there would be enough Republican support to get the legislation across the finish line in the Senate.

10:07 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Biden: "We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11"

President Biden placed America's presence in Afghanistan in perspective tonight, saying "we have service members serving in the same war as their parents once did."

Biden's remarks come just days after it was confirmed that the US has begun to withdraw troops from the country in local areas.

"We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11," Biden said during his first joint address to Congress. "War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking of nation-building."

Biden said the US has "delivered justice to Osama Bin Laden and we degraded the terrorist threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan" and now, two decades later, "it’s time to bring our troops home."

More context: Biden announced his decision to end America's longest war earlier this month, arguing that the decades-long conflict no longer aligned with American priorities.

The deadline the President has set for troops to withdraw is absolute — with no potential for an extension based on worsening conditions on the ground. 

See the moment:

10:07 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Biden slams Trump's 2017 tax cut

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

President Biden slammed former President Trump's 2017 tax cut plan while making the case for his proposal to tax the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

Biden said that through his plan the IRS would "crack down on millionaires and billionaires that cheat on their taxes."

"It's estimated to be billions of dollars by think tanks of the left, right, and center. I'm not looking to punish anybody. But I will not add a tax burden, additional tax burden on the middle class of this country. They're already paying enough. I believe what I propose is fair. Fiscally responsible. And it raises revenue to pay for the plans I propose and will create millions of jobs that will grow the economy and enhance our financial standing in the country," he said.

Biden then went on to slam Republicans and Trump for their 2017 cut plan.

"Look, the big tax cut of 2017, remember, it was supposed to pay for itself. That was how it was sold. And generate vast economic growth. Instead, it added $2 trillion to the deficit. It was a huge windfall for corporate America and those at the very top. Instead of using the tax saving to raise wages and invest in research and development, it poured billions of dollars into the pockets of CEOs. In fact the pay gap between CEOs and their workers is now among the largest in history," Biden said.

"My fellow Americans, trickle down, trickle down economics has never worked. It's time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out," the President said.

Watch here:

10:02 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Biden: "Trickle down economics has never worked"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

President Biden laid out his plan to pay for his ambitious agenda, saying that he did not oppose millionaires and billionaires, but they must pay their fair share of taxes.

Biden also criticized trickle down economics, a theory popular among Republicans, which says that tax cuts given to big businesses and the wealthy, strengthen the economy by trickling down to smaller businesses and individuals with fewer resources.  

"My fellow Americans, trickle down, trickle down economics has never worked and it is time to grow the economy, for the bottom and the middle out," said Biden, receiving applause and a few standing ovations from Democratic lawmakers. 

Watch the moment:

9:50 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Biden wants the "wealthiest 1% of Americans to begin to pay their fair share"

Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images
Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images

President Biden wants the wealthiest Americans to pay "their fair share" when it comes to taxes.

"I will not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000. But it's time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% of Americans to begin to pay their fair share. Just their fair share," Biden said during his first joint address to Congress.

More context: Biden has said he is already working to make permanent several major, albeit temporary, tax breaks for low-income and middle class Americans, that were part of the stimulus. These include expansions of the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, as well as more generous Affordable Care Act premium subsidies.

Much of Biden's plan rests on reversing the Republicans' 2017 tax cuts, which were more heavily weighted to those at the upper end of the income ladder, though many key provisions will expire after 2025.

In March, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden believes that "those at the top are not doing their part" and "obviously that corporations could be paying higher taxes."