Politics & National Security

National Security-Relevant Portions of Biden’s Address to Joint Session of Congress

By Bryce Klehm, Rohini Kurup
Thursday, April 29, 2021, 11:40 AM

Last night, President Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress. We have pulled sections of his speech that are particularly relevant to Lawfare readers. The full text of Biden’s remarks can be found here.

The Coronavirus

After I promised we would get 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots into people’s arms in 100 days, we will have provided over 220 million Covid shots in those hundred days, thanks to all the help of all of you. We’re marshaling with your help, everyone’s help, we’re marshaling every federal resource. We’ve gotten vaccinations to nearly 40,000 pharmacies and over 700 community health centers where the poorest of the poor can be reached. We’re setting up community vaccination sites, developing mobile units to get to hard-to-reach communities. Today, 90 percent of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site. Everyone over the age of 16, everyone, is now eligible to get vaccinated right now, right away. Go get vaccinated, America. Go and get the vaccination. They’re available. You’re eligible now.

When I was sworn in on Jan. 20, less than 1 percent of the seniors in America were fully vaccinated against Covid-19. One hundred days later, 70 percent of seniors in America over 65 are protected, fully protected. Senior deaths from Covid-19 are down 80 percent since January, down 80 percent, because of all of you.

And more than half of all the adults in America have gotten at least one shot.

...

You know, there’s still—you all know it, you know it better than any group of Americans—there’s still more work to do to beat this virus. We can’t let our guard down. But tonight, I can say, because of you, the American people, our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history has been one of the greatest logistical achievements, logistical achievements this country has ever seen. 

Global Challenges

Decades ago, we used to invest 2 percent of our gross domestic product in America, 2 percent of our gross domestic product in research and development. Today, Mr. Secretary, that’s less than 1 percent. China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future. Advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, clean energy.

Look, we can’t be so busy competing with one another that we forget the competition that we have with the rest of the world to win the 21st century.

Secretary Blinken can tell you, I spent a lot of time with President Xi—traveled over 17,000 miles with him; spent, they tell me, over 24 hours in private discussions with him.  When he called to congratulate me, we had a two-hour discussion. He’s deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world. He and others—autocrats—think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies because it takes too long to get consensus.

I’ve often said our greatest strength is the power of our example, not just the example of our power. My conversations with world leaders—and I’ve spoken to 38, 40 of them now—I’ve made it known, I’ve made it known, that America is back.

You know what they say? The comment I hear most of all from them? They say: “We see America’s back, but for how long? But for how long?” My fellow Americans, we have to show not just that we’re back, but that we’re back to stay, and that we aren’t going to go alone. We’re going to do it by leading with our allies. No one nation can deal with all the crises of our time, from terrorism to nuclear proliferation, mass migration, cybersecurity, climate change, as well as what we’re experiencing now, pandemics.

There’s no wall high enough to keep any virus out. And our own vaccine supply, as it grows to meet our needs—and we’re meeting them—will become an arsenal for vaccines for other countries, just as America was the arsenal for democracy for the world. And in consequence, influenced the world. Every American will have access before that occurs, every American will have access to be fully covered by Covid-19 from the vaccines we have.

Climate Change

Look, the climate crisis is not our fight alone. It’s a global fight. The United States accounts, as all of you know, for less than 15 percent of carbon emissions. The rest of the world accounts for 85 percent. That’s why I kept my commitment to rejoin the Paris Accord, because if we do everything perfectly, it’s not going to matter. I kept my commitment to convene a climate summit right here in America with all the major economies of the world: China, Russia, India, European Union. I said I would do it in my first hundred days.

I want to be very blunt about it. I had—my intent was to make sure that the world could see that there was a consensus, that we are at an inflection point in history. The consensus is, if we act to save the planet, we can create millions of jobs and economic growth and opportunity to raise the standard of living of almost everyone around the world. If you’ve watched any of it—and you were all busy, I’m sure you didn’t have much time—that’s what virtually every nation said, even the ones who aren’t doing their fair share.

China

The investments I propose tonight also advance a foreign policy, in my view, that benefits the middle class. That means making sure that every nation plays by the same rules in the global economy, including China. In my discussions with President Xi, I told him we welcome the competition. We’re not looking for conflict.

But I made absolutely clear that we’ll defend America’s interests across the board. America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut workers and American industries like subsidies from state to state-owned operations and enterprises and the theft of American technology and intellectual property. I also told President Xi that we’ll maintain a strong relationship in the Indo-Pacific, just as we do for NATO and Europe. Not to start a conflict, but to prevent one.

I told him what I said to many world leaders, that America will not back away from our commitments, our commitments to human rights and our fundamental freedom and our alliances. I pointed out to him, no responsible American president could remain silent when basic human rights are being so blatantly violated. An American president has to represent the essence of what our country stands for.

Russia, Iran and North Korea

America is an idea, the most unique idea in history. We are created, all of us equal. It is who we are. And we cannot walk away from that principle and in fact say we are dealing with the American idea. With regards to Russia, I know it concerns some of you. I made it clear to Putin that we are not going to seek—excuse me—escalation but their actions will have consequences if they turned out to be true. And they turned out to be true. So I responded directly and proportionally to Russia’s interference in our elections and the cyberattacks on our government and our business.

They did both of these things, and I told them we would respond, and we have. We’ll also cooperate when it is our mutual interest. We did it when we extended the New Start Treaty on nuclear arms and we are working on climate change. But he understands, we will respond. On Iran and North Korea, nuclear programs present serious threats to American security and the security of the world. We’re going to be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence.

Afghanistan and Terrorism

And American leadership meaning ending the forever war in Afghanistan. We have—we have, without hyperbole, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. I am the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a son serving in a war zone. Today we have service members serving in the same war zone as their parents did. We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11. The war in Afghanistan, as we remember the debates here, were never meant to be multigenerational undertakings of nation building.

We went to Afghanistan to get terrorists, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. And we said we would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell to do it. And if you’ve been to the Upper Kunar Valley, you’ve kind of seen the gates of hell. And we delivered justice to bin Laden. We degraded the terrorist threat in Afghanistan. And after 20 years of value—valor and sacrifice, it is time to bring those troops home.

Look, even as we do, we’ll maintain over the horizon the capacity to suppress future threats to the homeland. Make no mistake, in 20 years, terrorists—terrorism has been metastasized. The threat evolved way beyond Afghanistan. Those in the intelligence committees, the foreign relations committee, defense committees, you know well we have to remain vigilant against the threats to the United States wherever they come from. Al Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, other places in Africa and the Middle East and beyond.

Police Reform

It was nearly a year ago before her father’s funeral when I spoke to Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. She’s a little tyke, so I was kneeling down to talk to her, so I can look at her in the eye. She looked at me, she said, “My daddy changed the world.” Well, after the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, we can see how right she was—if, if we have the courage to act as a Congress. We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans. Now is our opportunity to make some real progress.

The vast majority, men and women wearing the uniform and a badge, serve our communities and they serve them honorably. I know them, I know they want—I know they want to help meet this moment as well. My fellow Americans, we have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systematic racism in our criminal justice system and enact police reform in George Floyd’s name that passed the House already.

I know Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in productive discussions with Democrats in the Senate. We need to work together to find a consensus. But let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death. The country supports this reform and Congress should act. We have the giant opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, real justice.

Domestic Extremism

And we won’t ignore what our intelligence agents have determined to be the most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland today: White supremacy is terrorism. We are not going to ignore that either. My fellow Americans, look, we have to come together to heal the soul of this nation.

Hate Crimes

Look, I also want to thank the United States Senate for voting 94-1 to pass Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to protect Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. You acted decisively. You can see on television the viciousness of the hate crimes we’ve seen over the past year and for too long. I urge the House to do the same and send that legislation to my desk, which I will glad, anxiously sign.

Ghost Guns

But in the early 2000s, the law expired. We have seen daily bloodshed since then. I’m not saying that if the law had continued, we wouldn’t have seen bloodshed. More than two weeks ago in the Rose Garden, surrounded by some of the bravest people I know, the survivors and families who lost loved ones to gun violence, I laid out several of the Department of Justice actions that are being taken to impact this epidemic. One of them is banning so-called ghost guns.

These are homemade guns built from a kit including directions on how to finish the firearm. The parts have no serial numbers. So they show up at crime scenes and they can’t be traced. The buyers of those ghost kits are not required to pass any background checks. Anyone, from a criminal or terrorist, could buy this kit and within 30 minutes have a weapon that’s lethal. But no more. And I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence, but it’s time for Congress to act as well.

The Jan. 6 Attack

Look, in conclusion, as we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol—desecrating our democracy—remain vivid in all our minds. Lives were put at risk, many of your lives. Lives were lost. Extraordinary courage was summoned. The insurrection was an existential crisis, a test of whether our democracy could survive. And it did.

But the struggle is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent, as old as our republic, still vital today? Can our democracy deliver on its promise that all of us—created equal in the image of God—have a chance to lead lives of dignity, respect and possibility? Can our democracy deliver on the most pressing needs of our people? Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate and fears that have pulled us apart?

America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting we can’t. And I promise you, they’re betting we can’t. They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. But they are wrong. You know it, I know it. But we have to prove them wrong. We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.