Biden signs huge stimulus bill ahead of coronavirus speech
President Joe Biden signed a massive $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill Thursday ahead of giving a national address where he was set to urge "hope" on the first anniversary of the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden called the American Rescue Plan "historic" as he signed the package into law in the Oval Office. The bill, passed by Congress earlier this week, dishes out $1,400 payments to most Americans, helps the unemployed, expands public health care and ramps up funds for vaccinations.
Although opposed by all Republican lawmakers in Congress, the plan has voter approval ratings of around 60 percent and was hailed by the IMF on Thursday as potentially juicing global economic recovery. "This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation -- working people, middle class folks, people who built the country -- a fighting chance," Biden said.
Later Thursday, Biden will deliver his first primetime television address as president. The 8:00 pm (0100 GMT) speech will mourn the more than half a million Americans who died from Covid-19 and recall the "sacrifices" made, a White House official said.
Biden will cast the struggle against the virus and the ensuing economic fallout as "the greatest operational challenge the country has faced," said the official, who did not want to be identified. And he "will lay out the next steps he will take to get the pandemic under control, level with the American people about what is still required to defeat the virus, and provide a hopeful vision of what is possible if we all come together."
While a somber occasion -- 12 months after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and then-president Donald Trump shut US borders to travel from Europe -- that note of optimism will be key.
With vaccines starting to make a real impact and production soaring, the mood is shifting in the United States, with the stimulus bill poised to push the US economy into a sustained rebound. "There is real reason for hope folks, I promise you," Biden said Wednesday.
In an indication of the importance he puts on the address -- and the difficulty in getting the right balance in his message -- Biden has been "line editing this speech for the last week," Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
'Help is on the way'
Biden has barely traveled since becoming president. The White House says he wanted to keep his head down, focusing on the political work needed to get the stimulus plan through Congress.
Now the Democrat appears set to spend more time in Air Force One and on the road, starting with a trip to Pennsylvania next Tuesday. He is set to hold the first formal press conference of his presidency later this month and plans are being drawn up for an address to the joint session of Congress.
And in support will be a small army of senior staff and Biden's wife Jill who will travel nationwide delivering the message that "help is on the way," as Psaki put it. The thrust of the Biden blitz will be selling Americans on the stimulus package, building on the warm reception so far to create durable political capital ahead of next year's congressional midterm elections.
Biden and his top aides have talked frequently about how the Barack Obama and Biden administration failed to adequately market the 2009 economic rescue package that they say saved the country from entering a depression after the 2008 financial meltdown.
In the 2010 midterms, voters turned fiercely against the Democrats and this time, the White House says, it wants to roll out a proper "victory lap."
"The passage and signing of the bill is just the beginning," Psaki said Wednesday. "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."