Biden delivers first joint address to Congress

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

Updated 3:00 p.m. ET, June 29, 2021
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10:30 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Sen. Tim Scott is delivering the GOP response. Here are key things to know about him.

From CNN's Clare Foran and Jessica Dean

Pool
Pool

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is delivering tonight's Republican rebuttal to President Biden's joint address to Congress.

Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, was selected by his party's leadership to deliver their response, which will give him a prominent national platform to speak to the country and the opportunity to draw a contrast between the GOP and Biden's agenda.

Scott has served in the Senate since 2013 and previously served in the House of Representatives representing his state's 1st Congressional District.

The rebuttal speech serves as a chance for the party not in control of the White House to offer up a critique of the administration and an alternative vision for the country while highlighting a rising star in the party.

Scott is playing a critical role in the effort to weave together a policing bill that can pass the narrowly divided US Senate.

In the wake of George Floyd's death last year, he drafted legislation aimed at overhauling policing, an effort that ultimately failed on the Senate floor. Now he's at the center of a new bipartisan effort.

Scott's discussions over a bipartisan Senate bill overhauling policing with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, the author of the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, have intensified in recent weeks.

Their goal remains crafting a compromise bill, according to a source familiar with the talks.

10:26 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Biden just wrapped up his speech

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Michael Reynolds/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Reynolds/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden just ended his speech. It lasted 1 hour, 5 minutes.

Biden used his first joint speech to Congress to lay out an an ambitious progressive agenda, proposing up to $6 trillion in new spending for infrastructure, investment in America and more social safety net programs.

Biden also used the address to lay out a road map of what cooperation with Republicans could look like, saying spending government money on American goods and services was at the core of his infrastructure plan, a line which drew applause from both sides of the aisle.

The President also used the speech to lay out a plan how he would fund his agenda, saying the wealthiest Americans, millionaires and billionaires, must "pay their fair share," drawing less applause from the Republican side of the aisle.

Sen. Tim Scott will soon deliver the Republicans' rebuttal to Biden's address.

1:01 a.m. ET, April 29, 2021

Biden acknowledges Capitol riot from within the House chamber, calling it a test of democracy

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

During his closing remarks at his joint address to Congress, President Biden acknowledged the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, saying it was an existential crisis that tested democracy.

"As we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol — desecrating our democracy — remain vivid in all our minds. Lives were put at risk — many of your lives. Lives were lost. Extraordinary courage was summoned. The insurrection was an existential crisis — a test of whether our democracy could survive. It did," Biden said.

But the President underscored that "the struggle is far from over" and that "the question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent."

The President argued that "the autocrats of the world" are betting on American democracy's demise.

"They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. But they're wrong — you know it and I know it. But we have to prove them wrong," Biden said. "We have to prove democracy still works."

The President harkened back to World War II and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's call for Americans to do their part.  

"That’s all I’m asking: that we do our part, all of us," Biden said. "If we do that, we will meet the central challenge of the age by proving that democracy is durable and strong. Autocrats will not win the future. We will. America will."

Watch here:

1:02 a.m. ET, April 29, 2021

Biden once again urged Congress to act on gun reform. Here's where things stand on Capitol Hill.

Analysis from CNN's Maeve Reston

President Biden once again made a plea to Congress to act on gun control.

"I need not tell anyone this, but gun violence has become an epidemic in America," Biden said. "Look, I don't want to become more confrontational. We need more Senate Republicans to join the overall majority of Democratic colleagues and close the loopholes required in background check purchases of guns. We need a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines."

"These kinds of reasonable reforms have overwhelming support from the American people including many gun owners. If a country supports reform, then Congress should act. This shouldn't be a red or blue issue," the President continued.

Democratic members of Congress have held strategy sessions to explore the most viable steps they could take on gun control, hoping to use public outrage about recent mass shootings as a catalyst for legislative progress.

But once again Democrats' chances for success will hinge on the cooperation of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who appears to be relishing his role as the lynchpin of virtually every legislative endeavor in the 50-50 divided Senate.

At this juncture, it remains unclear how much political capital either Biden or Manchin are willing to devote to gun control at a time when the nation is distracted by the pandemic, vaccine distribution, the economic recovery and Biden's massive infrastructure bill, which is the administration's primary focus at the moment.

Even when emotions were still running high after the Atlanta and Boulder shootings last month, Manchin made it explicitly clear to CNN that he did not support two gun bills recently passed by the House — one, H.R. 8, that would expand background checks on all firearm sales, and a second, H.R. 1446, closing the so-called Charleston Loophole that allows some licensed gun sales to be completed before a required background check is conducted.

Manchin said he still favored pressing ahead with the narrower compromise legislation expanding background checks that he crafted with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey after the Sandy Hook massacre. That legislation, which Biden advocated for as vice president, failed in 2013, and the new House-approved bills that Manchin opposes would go farther.

Beyond Manchin's objections, there is no indication at this point that Democratic senators are on track to win the considerable GOP support they would need to overcome a filibuster on gun legislation

Earlier this month, Biden harnessed the powers of the presidency to advance a half-dozen executive actions on gun control, but they fall far short of the ambitious goals he outlined as a presidential candidate as the real fight still looms on Capitol Hill.

Read more about where things stand in Congress here.

See the moment:

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.