WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When he delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, President Joe Biden will take on a new role: salesman in chief.
Through his first 100 days in office, Biden has often struck a somber tone as he spoke about the country’s coronavirus deaths, mass shootings and millions out of work.
With his Cabinet mostly in place and a flurry of executive orders and a massive COVID-19 relief bill signed, much of Biden’s upcoming agenda is at the mercy of Congress.
So the Democratic president plans to redouble efforts to convince voters – and by extension reluctant lawmakers – that collaborative effort and trillions in spending are the way to renovate the country and compete with China, administration officials and their allies, including in Congress, said in recent weeks.
Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda is broadly popular with voters, but his coronavirus relief bill failed to win a single Republican vote in Congress. On Wednesday, he plans to outline another crowd-friendly idea – putting $1.5 trillion toward childcare and college education, and taxing wealthy Americans to pay for it.
That is on top of a $2 trillion jobs-and-infrastructure plan paid for by raising taxes on U.S. companies, that Republicans in Congress argue is too large.
Biden is expected to try to convince Americans that infrastructure is more than just roads, that caregivers need to be paid more for their work and that taxing the wealthy more to invest in long-term projects is good for the economy. After Wednesday’s speech, he will head to Georgia on Thursday and Pennsylvania on Friday, with more stops to come.
More than half of Americans, 55%, approve of the president, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows, levels of support that predecessor Donald Trump, a Republican, never achieved. Infrastructure spending is even more popular, as is making the rich pay higher taxes.
That is why Wednesday’s target audience is not just the tiny group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill allowed in the room, but the tens of millions the White House hopes will tune in, Biden associates say.
At the same time, White House aides are pushing for Biden to champion an assortment of policies, ranging from police reform to foreign affairs, in the speech.
Biden’s main speechwriter, Vinay Reddy, helped the president craft his 21-minute inaugural address, among the shortest in modern times, and a plea in March to end hatred following the killings of Asian Americans in Georgia.
The president’s speechwriting process is generally a back-and-forth affair, aides say, lasting several weeks or months, with drafts written or marked up by hand and edited until the last minute.
Biden asks aides to boil concepts down into blunt, rib-sticking terms, and to make only promises they know they can deliver – like guaranteeing 100 million vaccine shots within 100 days during his campaign, a goal communicated broadly, achieved quickly, and then doubled.
“The whole concept of the bully pulpit was going to the people to put pressure on legislators,” said Theodore Sheckels, a Randolph-Macon College English professor, who has written extensively about political communication.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “are trying to communicate more directly to the American people,” Sheckels said.
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