President Biden’s first joint address to Congress was met with tepid criticism from Republican lawmakers, who were hopeful but skeptical about whether he will work across the aisle to help grow jobs and keep the economy humming.
During his speech, Biden — who went off-script while attempting to make the case for his progressive agenda — called for sweeping change from the previous administration, touting his green energy infrastructure proposal, railing against “trickle-down economics” and pushing Congress to pass immigration and policing reform bills.
Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that while he felt the president’s tone was right, he disagreed with the notion that his policies would help the country’s job and economic growth as it looks to recover from the damage incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These crushing tax increases are going to hurt working families,” he said. “I’m absolutely confident these tax increases won’t land on the wealthy, they are going to land on employees and working families.”
Brady added: “I agree when the President says we need to buy American, that we need to make America more competitive. We need to bring our supply chain home. But the only way we’re going to do that is if we are competitive in terms of taxation. We cannot over-regulate mandates and tax our way into competitiveness. That’s not how the economy works.”
During the course of his speech, Biden praised the group of Republican senators for their work on a counter-proposal to his infrastructure plan, asserting he wants to hear ideas from members across the aisle. While Republicans said they found his comments on bipartisanship encouraging, they felt like he has failed to deliver on his message of unity during his first 100 days. And some argued that he didn’t provide enough specifics on how he plans to accomplish his goals.
“He did not provide any specifics that would solve the border crisis that he created, doubled-down on the weak national security policies that will embolden our adversaries and make our country less safe, and vowed to continue his Administration’s heartless energy policies that will destroy jobs and livelihoods for families in Wyoming and across America,” House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a statement.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, echoed Cheney’s sentiments, arguing Biden could have gone into more detail while laying out his vision for the country.
“He didn’t go into a lot of detail on infrastructure, I was hoping we would talk more about that, you know, overall it was what I would call a snoozer I’m glad I wasn’t home in my recliner — part of it I think just because of the few people in the chamber there wasn’t much energy in there,” he told The Post.
The event was marked with a number of unprecedented components, with the majority of lawmakers viewing the speech remotely due to the significantly reduced number of individuals allowed in the chamber, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) capping attendance at 200. Members on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the change in the atmosphere due to the limited capacity, describing it as more low-key than non-pandemic years.
While GOP leadership is traditionally present for the event, a number of senior lawmakers including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) opted to give their tickets to freshman members.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said he opted to attend the event out of respect for the office and hopes the administration will reach out to work with Republicans on key issues.
“I mean, maybe I’m old-fashioned about this, but I do think you’ve got to respect the office and I think it’s important to show up to the game,” he told The Post in an interview just ahead of the speech.
“He is the president of the United States and if I want to influence him or try to effectuate change, you have to be in the game.”
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), one of the handful of freshman lawmakers present in the chamber, also said she attended the event “in good faith” to show she is “willing to work with him.”
“I used my one minute to be able to talk to him about the border that he needs to go to the border, he needs to speak with these border patrol agents and give them the support that they need to be able to get illegal migration under control, and keep our border secure and stop the cartels, from having control over our southern border.”
The New York Republican said she briefly spoke with Biden following the speech, where she encouraged him to do more to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border.
“I used my one minute to be able to talk to him about the border that he needs to go to the border, he needs to speak with these border patrol agents and give them the support that they need to be able to get illegal migration under control,” she said.
Democrats praised the speech as a welcomed change of pace that has brought them a renewed sense of optimism.
“From an insurrection against our democracy to a resurrection of our democracy. This president has given us hope, he has given us reason to believe that we are on the move,” Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) told The Post. “But he’s doing more than giving us hope. He’s given us a pathway to success so that we can rebuild better.”
And several Democratic lawmakers said they welcomed the quieter vibe of the event, with moderate Democrat Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, telling The Post: “It was refreshing to return to normal.”
Murphy also dismissed Republican’s criticisms that Biden isn’t doing enough to reach across the aisle.
“I think it’s great that he’s willing and we’re willing [to work with Republicans], but we need Republicans to show up and take a seat at the table instead of licking their lips, anticipating a 2022 midterm and be more worried about politics than about the people in their constituencies,” she said.
“The things that are holding them back from negotiating with us on the very real needs of the American people are their own personal political games, and I think that’s irresponsible.”