By a Biometrica staffer
“Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President. No president has ever said those words from this podium. No president has ever said those words. And it’s about time.”
There was an explosion of excitement on Twitter at those words from President Joe Biden during his address to a joint session of Congress on April 28. And nobody is likely to forget seeing images and videos of Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi elbow bumping each other in a hurry. But there was a whole lot more in Biden’s speech that covered everything from details of a newly-unveiled $1.8 trillion social spending plan, to anti-discrimination reforms that come against a backdrop of rising hate crimes, and the need for more gun safety laws as the nation also continues to reel from recent mass shootings.
A New York Times article, reporting on Biden’s address, said it was an ambitious agenda to “rewrite the American social compact by vastly expanding family leave, child care, health care, preschool and college education for millions of people to be financed with increased taxes on the wealthiest earners.” The American Families Plan, as the White House calls the social spending plan, follows a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package Biden introduced last month. Collectively, Biden’s initiatives suggest a “breathtaking scope of change sought by a 78-year-old president who spent a lifetime as a more conventional lawmaker,” the New York Times report adds.
There was also a lot to takeaway from Biden’s address on matters concerning public safety and security. For instance, he said that the administration won’t ignore the rise of domestic white supremacist terrorism, even as it keeps an eye on international threats to America’s democracy. He wants to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and also addressed the gun violence epidemic in the country, and talked about banning “ghost guns.” Biden called on the country to also end its “exhausting war” over immigration, which, he says, has always been essential to America.
On Threats To American, And Global, Security
“On Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs that present a serious threat to America’s security and world security – we will be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy and stern deterrence. And American leadership means ending the forever war in Afghanistan. We have the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. And I’m the first President in 40 years who knows what it means to have had a child serving in a warzone. Today we have service members serving in the same war as their parents once did. We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11. War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi—generational undertaking of nation—building. We went to Afghanistan to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. We delivered justice to Osama Bin Laden and we degraded the terrorist threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. After 20 years of American valor and sacrifice, it’s time to bring our troops home. Even as we do, we will maintain an over—the—horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland. But make no mistake – the terrorist threat has evolved beyond Afghanistan since 2001 and we will remain vigilant against threats to the United States, wherever they come from. Al Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and other places in Africa and the Middle East and beyond. And, we won’t ignore what our own intelligence agencies have determined – the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today is from white supremacist terrorism. And my fellow Americans, we must come together to heal the soul of this nation.”
On Law Enforcement And Anti-Discrimination Reforms
Just last week, a jury of five men and seven women found former policeman Derek Chauvin, 45, guilty on all counts for causing Floyd’s death — of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. In his address on Wednesday, Biden said:
“It was nearly a year ago before her father’s funeral, when I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, “Daddy changed the world.” After the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, we can see how right she was – if we have the courage to act. We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black America. Now is our opportunity to make real progress. Most men and women in uniform wear their badge and serve their communities honorably. I know them. I know they want to help meet this moment as well.”
“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. I know the Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in productive discussions with Democrats. We need to work together to find a consensus. Let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death. The country supports this reform. Congress should act. We have a giant opportunity to bend to the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Real justice. And with the plans I outlined tonight, we have a real chance to root out systemic racism that plagues American life in many other ways. A chance to deliver real equity.”
“Good jobs and good schools. Affordable housing. Clean air and clean water. Being able to generate wealth and pass it down through generations. Real opportunities in the lives of more Americans – Black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American. I also want to thank the Senate for voting 94—1 to pass the COVID—19 Hate Crimes Act to protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from the vicious hate crimes we’ve seen this past year – and for too long. I urge the House to do the same and send that legislation to my desk as soon as possible. I also hope Congress can get to my desk the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans. To all the transgender Americans watching at home – especially the young people who are so brave – I want you to know that your president has your back.”
“And another thing. Let’s reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which has been law in this country for 27 years since I first wrote it. It will close the so—called “boyfriend” loophole to keep guns out of the hands of abusers. It’s estimated that more than 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner – every month in America. Pass it and save lives.”
On The American Gun Violence Epidemic
On April 8, Biden announced an initial set of measures to take on what he called “an epidemic” of gun violence. The proposed action included two significant ones that have already riled the National Rifle Association (NRA). The first is that the Justice Department (DOJ), will, within 30 days, issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns.”
Ghost guns are self-assembled firearms with parts that do not include serial numbers. As they’re handmade, they do not require background checks and the acquisition of a ghost gun skirts federal gun laws.
When you buy a gun from a licensed dealer, that gun, or more specifically, its receiver, is made by a licensed manufacturer, and is marked. It has a serial number that can be traced, which is invaluable for tracking crimes. The intention of the rule would be to require that components in gun-assembling kits have serial numbers that would allow them to be traced and for the kits (receivers) to be legally classified as firearms.
In Wednesday’s address, Biden had the following to say on gun violence:
“And I need not tell anyone this, but gun violence is an epidemic in America. Our flag at the White House was still flying at half—staff for the 8 victims of the mass shooting in Georgia, when 10 more lives were taken in a mass shooting in Colorado. In the week between those mass shootings, more than 250 other Americans were shot dead. 250 shot dead. I know how hard it is to make progress on this issue.”
“In the 1990s, we passed universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high—capacity magazines that hold 100 rounds that can be fired in seconds. We beat the NRA. Mass shootings and gun violence declined. But in the early 2000’s, that law expired and we’ve seen the daily bloodshed since. More than two weeks ago in the Rose Garden, surrounded by some of the bravest people I know – the survivors and families who lost loved ones to gun violence – I laid out several steps the Department of Justice is taking to end this epidemic.”
“One of them is banning so—called “ghost guns.” They are homemade guns built from a kit that includes the directions on how to finish the firearm. The parts have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced. The buyers of ghost gun kits aren’t required to pass a background check. Anyone from a criminal to a terrorist could buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a lethal weapon. But not anymore.”
“I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence. But it’s time for Congress to act as well. We need more Senate Republicans to join with the overwhelming majority of their Democratic colleagues, and close loopholes and require background checks to purchase a gun. And we need a ban on assault weapons and high—capacity magazines again. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. We’ve done it before … and it worked. Talk to most responsible gun owners, most hunters – they’ll tell you there’s no possible justification for having 100 rounds – 100 bullets – in a weapon. They will tell you that there are too many people today who are able to buy a gun, but who shouldn’t be able to. These kinds of reasonable reforms have the overwhelming support of the American people – including many gun owners. The country supports reform, and the Congress should act. This shouldn’t be a Red vs. Blue issue. It’s an American issue.”
On Ending The “Exhausting War Over Immigration” And Protecting Democracy
“And here’s what else we can do. Immigration has always been essential to America. Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration. If you believe we need a secure border – pass it. If you believe in a pathway to citizenship – pass it. If you actually want to solve the problem – I have sent you a bill, now pass it. We also have to get at the root of the problem of why people are fleeing to our southern border from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. The violence. The corruption. The gangs. The political instability. Hunger. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. When I was Vice President, I focused on providing the help needed to address these root causes of migration. It helped keep people in their own countries instead of being forced to leave. Our plan worked. But the last administration shut it down. I’m restoring the program and asked Vice President Harris to lead our diplomatic efforts. I have absolute confidence she will get the job done. Now, if Congress won’t pass my plan – let’s at least pass what we agree on.”
“Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for the Dreamers – the young people who have only known America as their home. And, permanent protections for immigrants on temporary protected status who come from countries beset by man—made and natural made violence and disaster. As well as a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers who put food on our tables. Immigrants have done so much for America during the pandemic – as they have throughout our history. The country supports immigration reform. Congress should act.”
“More people voted in the last presidential election than ever before
in our history – in the middle of one of the worst pandemics ever. That should be celebrated. Instead it’s being attacked. Congress should pass H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and send them to my desk right away. The country supports it. Congress should act. As we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol—desecrating our democracy—remain vivid in our minds. Lives were put at risk. Lives were lost. Extraordinary courage was summoned. The insurrection was an existential crisis—a test of whether our democracy could survive. It did. But the struggle is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent. As old as our Republic. Still vital today.”