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Politics & Government

Strategists' Political Take On President Biden's 100-Day Speech

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden says America is turning the COVID-19 crisis into opportunity. He used his first joint address to Congress to make the case for trillions of dollars in new spending - 6 trillion, to be specific, if you count the spending across his three plans. The president said these plans will boost jobs and help rebuild the middle class in the wake of the pandemic.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Trickle-down economics has never worked. It's time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out.

MARTIN: Democratic strategist Karen Finney and Republican strategist Scott Jennings are with us now to talk about the president's speech yesterday and the implications. Good morning to you both.

KAREN FINNEY: Good morning.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Good morning.

MARTIN: Karen, I want to start with you. How effective was the president at selling his agenda with this speech?

FINNEY: Well, I thought he was very effective. He came in with a good story to tell. He was able to talk about the work that he's done, money in people's pockets, money going into community, shots in people's arms. But to lay out the case for - and we've got to keep going. And he had a big, bold idea, a bold plan for a moment that he understands requires bold action. And he really tried to speak to and use examples from some of the things that people are experiencing in their own lives, like talking about 20 million women who have had to drop out of the workforce and why child care, for example, is something we should think about now as part of our economic growth.

MARTIN: Scott, we know Republicans don't like how much this costs. They don't like raising taxes, which is how the administration - how President Biden plans to pay for all this expansion, taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations. Did Republicans hear anything last night that could change their minds on tax hikes?

JENNINGS: No. I mean, this proposal - it was interesting to hear, by the way, Biden complain about the 2 trillion that he says the Trump tax cuts cost and then go on to explain why we now have to spend 6 trillion (laughter) beyond that. I mean, to Republicans, this makes no sense. And so I don't think he - I'm sure he did quite an effective job at talking to Democrats last night. But I - other than his heartfelt remarks on cancer research, which I do agree with him, bipartisan - and that touches, you know, a lot of American families - I didn't hear anything last night that would have convinced a Republican to get on board with the Biden plan here, which is really big and is going to have a fundamental impact on job creators in America.

MARTIN: Although we have to point out - I mean, the Trump tax cuts didn't go to increasing the social safety net. I mean, it's about how Democrats see priorities for government spending. And...

FINNEY: Right.

MARTIN: ...Do Republicans also see value in expanding access to education or early child care in particular?

JENNINGS: Well, they certainly see value in some of these things. The question is, how do you pay for it, how much does it cost, and what is the role of government in running those things? They see value in infrastructure. They see value in roads, bridges, highways, airports. But only 5% or so of his infrastructure plan goes to those things that Republicans consider to be infrastructure. So it is a question of the size of government. And how big is the government going to be? How much debt are we going to be in? And how much taxes do we have to charge to pay for all of that? And that's, of course, a longstanding fundamental difference in the parties.

MARTIN: Although re (ph) - go ahead, Karen, yeah.

FINNEY: Well, I was just going to say, I think you also heard the president, again, making the case Republicans may have to join the president in understanding what the modern - we can't look back; we have to look forward and understand in our modern economy, in a modern scenario, infrastructure and what we might have traditionally thought of infrastructure has to expand. And when he talked about winning the future and an American future, again, I think the hope is that Republicans will be willing to join in understanding child care, for example, is critical to our infrastructure because it is critical to our workforce.

MARTIN: Scott - Karen, rather, I mean, to Scott's critique of this plan, I mean, it's difficult to not acknowledge that this is a wholesale reimagining of the role of government in Americans' lives. Do you see it that way?

FINNEY: It's bold. It's big. But again, I think the plan really meets the moment that we're in. Look, we've turned a corner, if you will, on - with regard to the COVID pandemic. But as we think about getting back to our lives and what that looks like and, as he said, people getting back to their careers, I think it was - it's a plan that meets this moment where, again, people are still struggling. And, you know, I always love - Republicans are fair-weather friends when it comes to government spending. What we saw, as the president laid out, was a huge expansion of wealth with the 2017 tax credit that did not trickle down the way we were told it was going to. And we are - and we've got to do something about the middle class.

MARTIN: Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina delivered the GOP response last night. I want to play a clip of that. He said the president isn't fulfilling his promise to unite the country. Let's listen.

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TIM SCOTT: We need policies and progress that brings us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart.

MARTIN: Scott, do you agree that the policy proposals that President Biden has on the table are pulling the country apart?

JENNINGS: Well, I agree that Republicans don't see much to like about what Joe Biden has done. He ran as a moderate. He ran as someone who'd try to bring both parties together and take the best ideas from everybody and put it all together. And he's really not done that at all. Republicans have offered up some alternatives on the COVID relief bill, on the infrastructure plan. And although Biden sometimes nods to these things in his rhetoric, what he and his party are doing is plowing ahead with what we consider to be, as Republicans, partisan bills. We have relative political equilibrium in Washington, but Biden pretends like half the country doesn't exist when it comes to policy preferences. And I don't personally find that unifying. And I was glad Tim Scott brought it up.

MARTIN: Although I imagine Karen would disagree, as would other Democrats. We're going to have to leave it there.

Karen Finney and Scott Jennings, thank you for your time.

FINNEY: Thanks. Good morning.

JENNINGS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.