President Biden justified his broad vision to remake the American economy as the necessary step to survive long-run competition with China, a foot race in which the United States must prove not only that democracies can deliver, but that it can continue to out-innovate and outproduce the world’s most successful authoritarian state.
His speech to Congress was laced with the themes of a new iteration of Cold War competition — more technological than military — without ever uttering the words “cold war.” America’s adversaries, Mr. Biden said, are looking at America’s deep polarization and the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol “as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy.”
“We have to prove democracy still works,’’ Mr. Biden said, repeating a rallying call he first used a month ago, and that aides say he often invokes in White House strategy sessions.
It was all part of Mr. Biden’s effort to lift his infrastructure and rebuilding plans to a higher plane, much as John F. Kennedy did in his “we choose to go to the moon” speech nearly six decades ago. But the history of more recent efforts by American presidents to revive that unifying national emotion is mixed at best; Barack Obama attempted it with his call to meet “our generation’s Sputnik moment” in his State of the Union address 10 years ago. It fell flat.
A decade later, the challenge is even more complex: America now faces a far more capable technological competitor, a far more complex military standoff, and a starker ideological conflict. “We’re at a great inflection point in history,” Mr. Biden said. In fact, he is facing the worst relations in two decades with very different superpower adversaries seeking to exploit America’s very visible divisions. And so he is making the case that the United States must compete with rising power in China, while containing a disrupter in Russia.
Whether he can turn both the country and America’s allies to that task, his aides acknowledge, may well define his presidency.
One day after President Biden’s big speech to a joint session of Congress where he called for a new era of government spending, he and Vice President Harris hit the road on Thursday to sell their agenda to the public, a campaign White House officials are calling the “Getting America Back on Track Tour.”
Mr. Biden is spending his 100th day as president in Georgia, a state where Democrats picked up two crucial Senate seats in January, giving them a slim majority in that chamber. The Bidens arrived in Plains, Ga., for a private visit with President Jimmy Carter and his wife. Later they will attend a drive-in car rally in Duluth that is intended to “highlight how he has delivered on his promises to the American people,” according to his official schedule.
Ms. Harris traveled to Baltimore to tour a vaccination site and to deliver a speech about what the administration has accomplished so far.
On Friday, Mr. Biden will travel to Philadelphia and Ms. Harris will go to Ohio.
A White House official said Mr. Biden and other officials would use the public events to promote the administration’s early successes on the economy and the pandemic — themes Mr. Biden stressed in his address to Congress on Wednesday.
In his remarks, which clocked in at over an hour, Mr. Biden urged for the vast expansion of social safety net and education programs while promising to address climate change in a way that creates jobs and improves the economy.
“We’re in a great inflection point in history,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better.” To do that requires investments in infrastructure and expansion of early education programs, he said.
Passing his sweeping jobs plan, he said, can be viewed as a down payment on the American economy. “All the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: Buy American. Buy American,” he said.
Toward the end of his speech, Mr. Biden argued that the country needed the kind of big government initiatives not seen since the days of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
“In another era when our democracy was tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us, in America, we do our part,” he said. “We all do our part. That’s all I’m asking.”
President Biden said on Thursday that he was not told in advance about the F.B.I.’s execution of search warrants at Rudolph W. Giuliani’s office and home, citing his pledge not to meddle in law enforcement matters.
“I give you my word, I was not,” told of the search, Mr. Biden said in a taped interview with NBC at the White House early Thursday, before heading to Georgia.
“I made a pledge,” Mr. Biden said in the interview, which will air Friday morning on the “The Today Show.” “I would not interfere in any way — order or try to stop any investigation the Justice Department had in their way. I learned about that last night when the rest of the world learned about it.”
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Biden vowed to restore the independence of the Justice Department after years of Trump administration policies that led to allegations of political interference and retaliation.
Federal investigators on Wednesday seized cellphones and computers from Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who became President Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer, stepping up a criminal investigation into Mr. Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine.
“That’s not the role of the president to say who should be prosecuted, when they should be prosecuted, who should not be prosecuted,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s not the role of the president. The Justice Department is the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer.”
Asked if he’s been briefed about any other investigations, Mr. Biden said, “No, and I’m not asking to be briefed.” He added that Mr. Trump “politicized the Justice Department so badly, so many of them quit, so many left.”
The president’s remarks came as his predecessor, Mr. Trump, told Fox Business that the search was “like, so unfair” and called Mr. Giuliani “a great patriot.”
“I don’t know what they’re looking for, what they’re doing,” Mr. Trump told Maria Bartiromo on Thursday. “They say it had to do with filings of various papers, lobbying filings.”
In December 2019, Mr. Trump was impeached, in part, for attempting to pressure Ukraine ahead of the U.S. election to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of his political rival, by threatening to withhold aid to the country.
The economy picked up speed last quarter, shaking off some of the lingering effects of the pandemic as consumer spending grew, bolstered by government stimulus checks and an easing of restrictions in many parts of the country.
The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the economy expanded 1.6 percent in the first three months of 2021, compared with 1.1 percent in the final quarter last year.
On an annualized basis, the first-quarter growth rate was 6.4 percent.
2019 Q4 LEVEL
Gross domestic product,
adjusted for inflation and
seasonality, at annual rates
2019 Q4 LEVEL
Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation
and seasonality, at annual rates
“This was a great way to start the year,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “We had the perfect mix of improving health conditions, strong fiscal stimulus and warmer weather.”
“Consumers are now back in the driver’s seat when it comes to economic activity, and that’s the way we like it,” he added. “A consumer that is feeling confident about the outlook will generally spend more freely.”
Looking ahead, economists said they expected to see even better numbers this quarter.
“It’s good news, but the better news is coming,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “There’s nothing in this report that makes me think the economy won’t grow at a gangbusters pace in the second and third quarter.”
The expansion last quarter was spurred by stimulus checks, he said, which quickly translated into purchases of durable goods like cars and household appliances.
“This demonstrates the value of government intervention when the economy is on its knees from Covid,” he added. “But in the coming quarters, the economy will be much less dependent on stimulus as individuals use the savings they’ve accumulated during the pandemic.”
Cumulative percent change in
G.D.P. from the start of the
last five recessions
Cumulative percent change in G.D.P.
from the start of the last five recessions
Overall economic activity should return to prepandemic levels in the current quarter, Mr. Anderson said, while cautioning that it will take until late 2022 for employment to regain the ground it lost as a result of the pandemic.
Still, the labor market does seem to be catching up. Last month, employers added 916,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, while initial claims for unemployment benefits have dropped sharply in recent weeks.
Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing firm in Chicago, said: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.”
Hiring is stronger for junior to midlevel positions, he said, with strong demand for professionals in accounting, financing, marketing and sales, among other areas. “Companies are building up their back-office support and supply chains,” he said. “I think we’re good for at least 18 months to two years.”
Spending on goods like automobiles led the way in the first quarter, but demand for services like dining out should revive in the second quarter, said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “I think we will see a surge in services spending,” she said.
For nearly a decade, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, has tried to pass legislation that would remove military commanders from their role in prosecuting service members for sexual assault.
On Thursday, Ms. Gillibrand was flanked by several lawmakers from both parties to announce her latest effort, which has attracted a new and wide array of support that greatly enhances its chances of becoming law.
“We owe it to our service members to do more to prevent these crimes and prosecute them when they occur,” said Ms. Gillibrand, whose bill would require specially trained military prosecutors to decide whether or not to try assault crimes in the military, taking that decision away from commanders.
Joining her were Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Iowa Republicans, as well as Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, and Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.
“She is our leader. I try to help,” Mr. Grassley said. “If you are right, you eventually win out in the Congress of the United States. Sexual assault cannot be tolerated anywhere, but particularly in the military.”
Ms. Ernst pushed for numerous prevention efforts to be added to the bill before lending her name to the proposed legislation.
Those who bring their sexual assault accusations to commanders say they often face retaliation, and many also say that perpetrators often are not brought to justice. The number of sexual assault cases has remained high for years, according to military statistics.
“Like so many other survivors, I made the difficult decision to report what happened to me,” said Amy Marsh, a military spouse who was assaulted. She added that she and her family were repeatedly harassed.
Had there been a prosecution process outside the chain of command, Ms. Marsh said, “I might have had a shot at sharing my side of the story. My belief is that our armed forces cannot shy away from what is right.”
In 2019, the Defense Department found that there were 7,825 reports of sexual assault involving service members as victims, a 3 percent increase from 2018. The conviction rate for cases was unchanged from 2018 to 2019; 7 percent of cases that the command took action on resulted in conviction, the lowest rate since the department began reporting in 2010.
While military leaders and chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee have resisted the change for decades, members of a new panel reporting to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin II have made recommendations similar to the proposed legislation.
President Biden laid out his ambitious vision for a post-pandemic America on Wednesday night. Now it is up to Senator Chuck Schumer to make it a reality.
Mr. Schumer, the New York Democrat and majority leader, must navigate resistant Republicans suffering extreme sticker shock from more than $4 trillion in new Democratic spending proposals and Democrats insisting on a bipartisan approach to delivering the second monumental piece of legislation of his tenure.
He says he understands that some of his colleagues, like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, won’t be rushed into pushing through the expansive approach outlined by the president over Republican howls of protest. Mr. Schumer is willing to give bipartisan efforts some time, but his patience extends only so far.
“Now look,” he said in an interview this week in his Capitol leadership suite, “there’s a number of people in our caucus who believe strongly in bipartisanship and want us to try that. And that’s fair. And we will. And we’ve made a good start.”
He pointed to some modest measures such as a water projects bill that is set to pass on Thursday with support from both parties.
But Mr. Schumer, in concert with Mr. Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, is not about to settle for modest achievements. “Big and bold” are his watchwords while Democrats control Congress and the White House, a circumstance that could end in 2022, when Republicans have the chance to reclaim House and Senate majorities.
The time will quickly come for Democrats to leave Republicans behind, he said, should their view of what’s needed fail to align with Mr. Biden’s and his own.
“If and when it becomes clear that Republicans won’t join us in big, bold action, we will move in that direction” without them, he acknowledged.
Like Mr. Biden, Mr. Schumer is celebrating his first 100 days in a new leadership position. And the majority leader and Democrats see themselves as having surpassed expectations with a broad $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill already on the books, confirmation of the president’s cabinet with only one candidate withdrawn and an impeachment trial that drew Republican support for conviction of Donald J. Trump.
“I never would have predicted this much success, simply because of my 10 years so far in the United States Senate, where we have been stymied at every turn by Republicans,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who credited Mr. Schumer for focusing on achievable goals.
“I think we’ve shown real momentum,” Mr. Schumer said.
Democrats have begun advancing President Biden’s first judicial nominees through the Senate Judiciary Committee, taking a significant step to counter the influence President Donald J. Trump had in steering the federal courts to the right.
In a marked and intentional contrast to Mr. Trump’s picks, the two circuit court nominees and three district court candidates considered on Wednesday were all people of color with backgrounds that differed substantially from nominees traditionally chosen by presidents of both parties, including an emphasis on serving as a public defender.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the committee, noted that none of the 54 appeals court judges selected by Mr. Trump had been African-American. Mr. Biden’s nominees would orient the courts back to “even-handedness, fair-mindedness and competence” while improving racial and professional diversity, Mr. Durbin said.
“We need it on the federal courts,” he said.
Most of the focus on Wednesday was on two nominees to federal appeals courts — usually the last stop for major cases before the Supreme Court — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, chosen for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago. Both are Black. Judge Jackson, currently a district court judge in Washington, is considered a potential future Supreme Court nominee by Democrats, and Ms. Jackson-Akiwumi would be the only Black judge on the Seventh Circuit.
The Biden White House and Senate Democrats are trying to move quickly to fill scores of federal court vacancies after Mr. Trump placed more than 220 conservative judges on the federal courts with the assistance of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who made judicial confirmations a high priority while he was majority leader. He said he was not surprised at the Democratic push.
“That’s what I would do if I were in their shoes,” Mr. McConnell said in a recent interview. “Pick as many outstanding liberals as you can, and try to get them confirmed as quickly as you can. I wrote the playbook on that. I can’t blame them for taking a look at how it was done. I think it was done very effectively.”
Now 100 days into his presidency, President Biden is driving the biggest expansion of American government in decades, an effort to use $6 trillion in federal spending to address social and economic challenges at a scale not seen in a half-century. Aides say he has come into his own as a party leader in ways that his uneven political career didn’t always foretell, and that he is undeterred by matters that used to bother him, like having no Republican support for Democratic priorities.
For an establishment politician who cast his election campaign as a restoration of political norms, his record so far amounts to the kind of revolution that he said last year he would not pursue as president — but that, aides say, became necessary to respond to a crippling pandemic. In doing so, Mr. Biden is validating the desires of a party that feels fiercely emboldened to push a liberal agenda through a polarized Congress.
The result is something few people expected: His presidency is transforming what it means to be a Democrat, even among a conservative wing of his party that spent decades preaching the gospel of bipartisanship.
“We’ve been very happy with his agenda, and we’re the moderates,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, a Democratic think tank named after a governing style embraced by former President Bill Clinton that rejected liberal orthodoxy. “Some have said this is a liberal wish list. We would argue that he is defining what it is to be a 21st-century moderate Democrat.”
Mr. Biden trumpeted his expansive agenda again on Wednesday night in his first address to Congress, casting his efforts to expand vaccinations and pour trillions of dollars into the economy as a way to unify a fractured nation.
“We’re vaccinating the nation; we’re creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs,” he said. “We’re delivering real results to people — they can see it and feel it in their own lives.”
Mr. Biden, now 78, has pursued these sweeping changes without completely losing his instinct for finding the center point of his party. As the Democratic consensus on issues has moved left over the years, he has kept pace — on abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, the Iraq war and criminal justice — without going all the way to the furthest liberal stance. Now, he is leading a party that accelerated leftward during the Trump administration, and finding his own place on the Democratic spectrum — the one with the most likelihood of legacy-cementing success.
Initial jobless claims fell last week to yet another pandemic low in the latest sign that the economic recovery is strengthening.
About 575,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week’s revised figure. It was the third straight week that jobless claims had dropped.
In addition, 122,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 12,000 from the previous week.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 553,000.
“Today’s report, and the other data that we got today, signals an improving labor market and an improving economy,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “It is encouraging that claims are continuing to fall.”
Although weekly jobless claims remain above levels reached before the pandemic, vaccinations and warmer weather are offering new hope. Most economists expect the slow downward trend in claims to continue in the coming months as the economy reopens more fully.
But challenges lie ahead. The long-term unemployed — a group that historically has had a more difficult time rejoining the work force — now make up more than 40 percent of the total number of unemployed. Of the 22 million jobs that disappeared early in the pandemic, more than eight million remain lost.
“The labor market is definitely moving in the right direction,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the online job site Indeed. She noted that job postings as of last Friday were up 22.4 percent from February 2020.
Still, she cautioned that industries like tourism and hospitality would probably remain depressed until the pandemic was firmly under control. She also stressed that child care obligations might be preventing people ready to return to work from seeking jobs.
“We still are in a pandemic — the vaccinations are ramping up but there is that public health factor still,” Ms. Konkel said. “We’re not quite there yet.”
President Biden kicked off his address to a joint session of Congress with a string of words that no American president has ever said before: “Madam Vice President and Madam Speaker.”
For the first time, the president is delivering his speech while standing in front of two women — Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. While Ms. Pelosi has spent several State of the Union addresses sitting on the podium behind the president, this is Ms. Harris’s first time.
The two women greeted each other with a friendly elbow bump before the president arrived.
For an event that is wrapped up in pomp and circumstance, the images from such nights can leave a lasting impression. And this tableau — a visual representation that the first and second in line of presidential succession are both women — depicts the progression of women in American politics.
Hours before the speech, when asked on MSNBC about the historic moment, Ms. Pelosi said that while it’s “exciting” it’s also “about time.”
President Biden on Wednesday invited the top Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to meet with him at the White House for the first time next month as he seeks to move his ambitious plans though Congress, according to two officials familiar with the matter.
While Mr. Biden has met regularly with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, the May 12 meeting would mark the first time he has hosted their Republican counterparts, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California.
The invitation, which became public hours before Mr. Biden was scheduled to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress, comes at a crucial moment in Mr. Biden’s presidency, as he tries to build support for $4 trillion in new spending to boost the economy, close racial disparities and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. But Republicans are increasingly portraying him to voters as a radical liberal who, despite campaign promises, is unwilling to compromise across the aisle.
The White House did not immediately make clear its agenda for the meeting.
Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell, an old friend, have spoken multiple times by phone since he became president. Mr. McCarthy has repeatedly requested to meet with Mr. Biden to discuss the influx of migrants at the southwestern border, but the two have not spoken.
Mr. Biden has been more free with invitations to rank-and-file Republicans — especially moderates who he had hoped might support his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan or his upcoming jobs package. So far, none have given him their support.
The Senate overwhelmingly authorized $35 billion to improve the nation’s water infrastructure, offering a show of bipartisan support for a sliver of infrastructure legislation even as lawmakers remained divided over the scope of President Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda.
The sweeping bipartisan vote on an 89 to 2 margin belied the broader divisions over the scope and cost of Mr. Biden’s ambitions to overhaul the nation’s aging public works system. But lawmakers in both parties insisted it was a sign, however small, of the potential for bipartisan cooperation on infrastructure.
The legislation, helmed by senators on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, would boost existing programs intended to improve water quality with the authorization of $35 billion in funds, with about 40 percent set aside in grant funding for small, rural and tribal communities that historically have struggled with inferior systems and poor water quality.
Mr. Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which is paired with a $1.8 trillion plan intended to address child care, access to education and improving equity, also provides billions in new spending to address water quality across the country. But with Republicans questioning the scale of the plan, lawmakers have vowed to attempt to find bipartisan compromise on individual provisions.
“The bottom line is very simple: We are moving forward, wherever we can, in a bipartisan way,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “So let it be a signal to our Republican colleagues that Senate Democrats want to work together on infrastructure, when and where we can.”
The White House earlier this week issued a statement of support for the legislation, calling it “a good start to the much-needed funding required to provide communities with the water quality they deserve.”
“This legislation aligns with the administration’s goals to upgrade and modernize aging infrastructure, improve the health of children and small and disadvantaged communities, develop new technologies, and help address cybersecurity threats and mitigate dangers from climate change,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy.