Biden pitches agenda to joint session of Congress ahead of 100th day in office

"I think Joe Biden understands ... his moment in history," said Marc Updegrove.

April 28, 2021, 5:28 AM

Throughout his nearly 50 years in Washington, Joe Biden has attended his fair share of State of the Union and joint addresses under eight different presidents -- as a senator for 36 years and vice president for eight.

Wednesday night, Biden will have his first chance to give his own joint address as president from the House chamber -- an important moment for every president to connect with the country.

"(He) certainly recognizes that this is an opportunity to speak directly to the American people, one of the highest-profile opportunities that any president has in their first year in office," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday.

Biden's remarks come on the eve of his 100th day in office, a progress marker for every modern presidency -- giving Biden the opportunity to both look back at his accomplishments so far and push ahead of the rest of his agenda.

President Joe Biden speaks about updated CDC guidance on masks for people who are fully vaccinated during an event in front of the White House, April 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

"There's no question, when you have an agenda as ambitious as Joe Biden's, this address becomes pretty important," said Mark Updegrove, a presidential historian and president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation.

"Under normal circumstances, the 100-day mark is always a benchmark that we look at and this is because of Franklin Roosevelt and the fact that he did so much in his first 100 days, setting a precedent for his successors," he said. "But in Biden's case, because -- again of the overarching ambitions that he has -- it becomes, I think, all the more important."

In the remarks, Biden is expected to lay out specific details of his "American Families Plan," that focuses on investments in childcare and education. That plan comes on the heels of his ambitious infrastructure policy that would invest in traditional projects, as well as moving the country towards green energy and investing in the caregiving economy.

"He will also use the speech as an opportunity to talk about many of his other priorities, including police reform, immigration, gun safety, his ongoing work to get the pandemic under control and to putting Americans back to work," Psaki said Tuesday, adding that there would also be a foreign policy section of Biden's remarks.

According to the White House, Biden has been working on the speech over the last few weeks, and in recent days has been workshopping the important remarks primarily with senior adviser Mike Donilon and director of speechwriting Vinay Reddy, "line editing it" in meetings.

Biden has also been checking in with members of his close-knit family as he prepares the remarks.

The timeline for Biden's preparations matched the general timeline Cody Keenan, director of speechwriting for former President Barack Obama, followed for these types of remarks. Kennan told ABC News he would typically start thinking about the remarks about a month ahead of delivery and would finesse the details in the days leading up to the event.

"For something like the State of the Union address or a joint session, I'd typically give the president a draft about six or seven days out, and we'd probably go through -- back and forth -- through one a day," Keenan recalled.

"I think Joe Biden's very aware of what his speaking style is and embraces it and that's a strength. It's unvarnished. It's honest. He just -- he talks to people where they are, which is great and I think it's something that people really appreciate. But I think like President Obama, I've heard that President Biden will pore over every draft," he added.

Keenan said the White House's decision to wait until the end of Biden's first 100 days in the job is a wise move, allowing Biden to remind the country of some of the accomplishments of his young presidency, including meeting his expanded goal of 200 million vaccinations into the arms of Americans and passing his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

A pink Supermoon provides a halo behind the Peace Monument, with figures representing Grief and History, at the U.S. Capitol on April 26, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

According to Updegrove, Biden's plan to pitch his next legislative effort also shows that Biden is cognizant of the pace he needs to work at.

"I think Joe Biden understands, I believe, his moment in history. And I think you have to believe that as a lawmaker, he understands the ephemeral nature of political capital. So that informs the very brisk pace at which he is trying to get his agenda through," he said.

As has been the case for most of Biden's presidency, the coronavirus pandemic means many of the traditional hallmarks of a congressional address will be impossible.

The chamber will not feature the full Congress -- only 200 people are expected to be in attendance. Additionally, with many members of the Cabinet watching virtually, no designated survivor is needed.

There will also not be guests in the first lady's box, likely meaning Biden will have to lean into the television audience during his remarks.

Keenan said the smaller crowd could be a benefit.

"I'd argue that's a good thing. I mean you always want a bigger crowd but you know you have to deal with half the chamber standing up and applauding every line and you just kind of lose your flow, so I'm interested to see how that plays out," he said.

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