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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10:59 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Fact check: Biden on his work on root causes of migration as vice president

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

President Biden said, "When I was vice president, the President asked me to focus on providing help needed to address the root causes of migration, and it helped keep people in their own countries instead of being forced to leave. The plan was working. But the last administration decided it was not worth it." 

Facts first: Biden didn’t specify the program, but it’s true that the Obama administration set up a program to provide safer pathways to the United States that was later terminated by then-President Trump.  

During his tenure as vice president, Biden led diplomatic efforts in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador after a growing number of unaccompanied minors from those countries began arriving in the US in 2014. The Central American Minors program was among the efforts.   

The program allowed children under the age of 21 with parents lawfully living in the US to seek entry into the country from their places of origin if they did not qualify for refugee protections but were still at risk of harm. It served as an alternative for parents who might otherwise turn to smugglers to bring their children to the US illegally. While it might not have helped “keep people in their own countries,” it was intended to keep them from being forced to try illegal, and dangerous, methods of immigration. 

There are mixed reviews on whether the program "was working," as Biden said, given the urgent situations some children were facing. In 2017, the Trump administration ended the program, making it difficult to assess its effectiveness since it had only been in place for a limited period of time.  

The Biden administration has since announced it is restarting the program. 

10:48 p.m. ET, April 28, 2021

Sen. Tim Scott: "America is not a racist country"

Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, used his speech tonight in rebuttal to President Biden's address to Congress to discuss the racial progress the US has made.

He went on to say that "America is not a racist country."

"When America comes together, we've made tremendous progress, but powerful forces want to pull us apart," Scott said. "One hundred years ago, kids in classrooms were taught the color of their skin was their most important characteristic. And if they looked a certain way, they were inferior."

"Today, kids are being taught that the color of their skin defines them again and if they look a certain way, they're an oppressor. From colleges to corporations, to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven't made any progress at all by doubling down on the divisions we've worked so hard to heal. You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly, America is not a racist country," he added.

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12:58 a.m. ET, April 29, 2021

Scott: Democrats partisan Covid-19 bill has divided Americans and lessened opportunities

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Pool
Pool

Republican Sen. Tim Scott attacked President Biden's American Rescue Plan during his rebuttal to Biden's joint session remarks to Congress. Scott called it a "partisan bill" and said the administration pushed Americans "apart,"

"Last year, under Republican leadership, we passed five bipartisan Covid package. Congress supported our schools, our hospitals, saved our economy, funded Operational Warp Speed delivering vaccines in record time. All five bills. Got 90 votes in the Senate. Common sense, found common ground," Scott argued.

Scott discussed his personal experience growing up in a single-mother household and how the pandemic has "attacked" every ladder that help him become a success.

"Growing up, I never dreamt of standing up here tonight. When I was a kid, my parents divorced. My mother, my brother and I moved in with my grandparents. Three of us sharing one bedroom. I was disillusioned and angry and I nearly fell out of school but I was blessed. First by a praying mama. And let me say this to the single mothers out there who are working their tails off and making ends meet, and wondering it works, you can bet it is. God bless your amazing effort on part of your kids," Scott said.

Scott recounted the "string of opportunities" that are only possible here in America that allowed him to follow his dreams and how he has "watched Covid attacked every wrung of the ladder that helped me up."

"So many families lost parents and grandparents too early. So many small businesses have gone under, becoming a Christian transformed my life but for months, too many churches were shutdown. Most of all, I am saddened that millions of kids have lost a year of learning when they could not afford to lose a single day," Scott said.

"Locking vulnerable kids out of the classroom is locking adults out of the future. Our public schools should have opened months ago," Scott continued.

Many Democratic lawmakers were hesitant to open schools and were supportive of restrictions on gatherings during the height of coronavirus surges and prior to vaccines being available.

12:59 a.m. ET, April 29, 2021

Sen. Tim Scott says Biden is pulling the nation apart

From CNN's Clare Foran and Jessica Dean

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina criticized President Biden and argued he is failing to deliver on his promises in the GOP rebuttal to the President's first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening.

"President Biden promised you a specific kind of leadership. He promised to unite a nation, to lower the temperature, to govern for all Americans no matter how we voted," Scott said in his remarks.

"Our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes," he said. "We need policies and progress that bring us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the President and his party are pulling us further and further apart."

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

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."

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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.

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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.

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