Biden to urge 'hope' after Congress passes huge relief plan

Washington (AFP) –


President Joe Biden goes before the nation Thursday in his first primetime television address to deliver a message of "hope" after Congress passed his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan a year into the deadly pandemic.

"There is real reason for hope folks, I promise you," Biden said in a preview of his remarks.

The 8:00 pm (0100 GMT Friday) speech will be the opening salvo in a White House blitz to seize the initiative after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan on Wednesday.

The mammoth package dishes out $1,400 to most Americans, helps the unemployed, expands public healthcare and ramps up funds for Covid-19 vaccinations.

On Friday, Biden will sign the bill, which although opposed by all Republican lawmakers in Congress has voter approval ratings of 60 percent and above.

The coming weeks will see the president and top staff fan out across the country explaining how the money is being spent, while capitalizing on the so-far warm public reception to tout the administration's ambitious future plans.

In his Thursday speech, Biden will mark the one year anniversary of a pandemic that has killed more than half a million Americans and upturned the world's largest economy.

Now 50 days into his administration, the Democrat will combine his trademark empathy with reassurances that surging vaccine production and economic stimulus offer a clear pathway to recovery.

Biden said he would "talk about what we went through as a nation this past year, but more importantly I'm going to talk about what comes next.

"I'm going to launch the next phase of the Covid response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people. There is light at the end of the tunnel."

- Sweeping spending package -

The American Rescue Plan passed the House of Representatives in a 220-211 vote, with zero support from Republicans, who accuse Biden of abandoning his Inauguration Day pledge to unify a divided nation.

In addition to helping the poor and boosting vaccination programs, it extends eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, pours billions of dollars into state and local governments, assists hard-hit small businesses and provides $130 billion in extra aid for schools.

Republican lawmakers have blasted the spending spree as "socialist" and argue that little of it goes directly to combating Covid-19.

But Democrats say the sweeping nature of the bill matches the dire economic harm done by the pandemic and lockdowns. For example, they argue that a provision in the bill to expand child tax credits will cut child poverty by up to 50 percent.

Most importantly from the White House's perspective, polls show the bill has strong backing from voters, including a majority of Republicans.

Biden hopes to seize on that goodwill with a victory lap.

- 'Help is on the way' -

Biden has barely traveled since becoming president. The White House says he wanted to keep his head down, focusing as much as possible on the political work needed to get the stimulus plan through Congress.

Now the Democrat appears set to spend more time on Air Force One.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden and top staff would be "engaging directly with the American people, all sending a clear message: 'help is on the way.'"

"I expect that to mean a couple trips for the president, the vice president and others," Psaki said.

In contrast to Biden's attention-grabbing predecessor Donald Trump, the Democratic president intends to share the limelight, sending out his wife Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, her husband Doug Emhoff, and cabinet members.

"He will be hitting the road, the vice president will be hitting the road, the first lady will be hitting the road," Psaki said. "We will have people out communicating directly in communities."

But in addition to declaring a big win, the White House is already looking to head off Republican accusations of wasteful spending or government inefficiency.

Psaki said Biden would appoint someone "to run point on implementation."

"The passage and signing of the bill is just the beginning," she said.

A Biden visit to Delaware County in Pennsylvania was announced for next Tuesday.