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Week In Politics: Biden Will Mark Early Successes In Speech Before Congress

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden will mark the milestone of 100 days in office next week with a prime-time address before Congress. We're joined now by NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: President's certainly expected to talk about what he sees as his administration's accomplishments. And I guess the pandemic would be first up, wouldn't it?

ELVING: That's been the first focus of the Biden presidency. So we not only have vaccines, but we've finally been seeing shots getting into arms, several million a day - astonishing progress by the standards of a few months ago. And now 40% of all Americans have had at least one dose, including the majority of all adults. The majority of all adults - in fact, there's been so much progress that the big problem now is with people acting like it's over. We should emphasize the danger of community spread is not gone. And in fact, the Center for Disease Control is still telling everyone who can, get the shot and keep up the masks and social distancing.

SIMON: And the success on that front, which, of course, as you point out, has to be carefully phrased, has had a palpable effect on the economy, as has the relief bill that Democrats were able to get passed through both chambers.

ELVING: Yes. As bad as things were a year ago, they look that much better now - week after week of fewer people filing jobless claims, more people going back to work, more people able to afford food and rent. And the stock market seems to be defying gravity even in the face of serious talk about Biden raising taxes on investment income.

SIMON: President's there - is also expected to make a case for other things he'd like to do - infrastructure certainly being one, immigration reform, police reform. He will need cooperation. And he still faces a pretty evenly divided Congress, doesn't he?

ELVING: Indeed, and the appetite for Biden's program is strong on one side and largely nonexistent on the other. And it gets tougher as you go down the list of issues. But look. Biden's been both busier and bolder than most people ever thought he could be, redefining U.S. foreign policy and climate change while keeping his primary focus on domestic issues. So, as you say, we've had historic spending to stimulate the economy and rebuild and even redefine the nation's infrastructure. He's also addressing issues of police violence and voting rights and immigration policy, issues given greater salience by events - the racial justice movement that followed the killing of George Floyd, the state-level restrictions on voting, the arrival of migrant children at the southern border. So when you get to Congress with all of that, even when Biden's ideas are popular with the public, they're not so popular with a lot of the folks who vote in Republican primaries. And that's of paramount concern for people running for Congress on that side or running for president.

SIMON: The Republican response to President Biden's address will be delivered by junior senator from South Carolina Tim Scott. Is this kind of a surprise?

ELVING: Senator Tim Scott is not a household name, and he's not among the top Republican leaders in the Congress. But he's a reliable conservative and a strong voice. And he's also the only Republican in the Senate who's African American - the only one in the last 40 years. And we've seen the Republicans turn to other prominent people of color to deliver these responses to the president's addresses. Back in President Obama's years, you remember we saw Marco Rubio from Florida and so on. Senator Scott will bring a message of inclusion. He'll give a rebuttal to Biden's speech, a critique of the early months of the Biden presidency. And he will also be a rebuttal to what many critics are saying about Republicans.

SIMON: And we should note he has worked with Democrats on a few occasions, hasn't he?

ELVING: Yes, he has. And that has also been a role that's been assigned to him by the Republican leadership and one where he can find perhaps the prominence that he deserves in going forward.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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