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Highlights from Biden's first address to joint session of Congress

President Joe Biden addressed Congress at the Capitol on Wednesday night, saying, "America is on the move again."
Illustration of President Joe BIden, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the Capitol behind them.
Watch live: Special coverage of Biden's address to CongressChelsea Stahl / NBC News

President Joe Biden delivered his first joint address to Congress on Wednesday, outlining his vision for the country and speaking to what he sees as his administration's initial accomplishments as he approaches 100 days in office.

Biden told Congress that it must that "prove democracy still works" and that it "can deliver for the people," according to excerpts released by the White House before the speech.

The address, which lasted an hour and five minutes, was held in the House chamber and due to security concerns following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and Covid-19 safety measures, only about 200 people were in attendance.

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Biden says it's time to end the 'forever war' in Afghanistan

Biden, who announced this month that all American troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, said U.S. leadership "means ending the forever war in Afghanistan."

"Today we have service members serving in the same war as their parents once did," he said. "We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11. War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking of nation-building."

"We went to Afghanistan to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11," he said. "We delivered justice to Osama Bin Laden, and we degraded the terrorist threat of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. After 20 years of American valor and sacrifice, it's time to bring our troops home."

Biden says trickle-down economics have 'never worked'

Biden, in addressing the accumulation of wealth by some of the richest Americans, said: "My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked."

Biden, who was speaking about the need to raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, noted that America's billionaires greatly grew their wealth during the pandemic.

"It's time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out," he said.

Biden says raising taxes on wealthy is how to pay for his plan; no GOP lawmakers applaud

Biden reiterated his commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for his plan to shepherd the American economic recovery. 

"Look, I'm not out to punish anyone. But I will not add to the tax burden of the middle class of this country," Biden said. "They're already paying enough."

He said his administration will work to get rid of the loopholes that allow Americans who make more than $1 million a year to pay a lower rate on their capital gains and use the IRS to crack down on millionaires and billionaires who cheat on their taxes, among other measures. 

Notably, no GOP lawmakers applauded the plan. 

Biden calls for legislative effort to lower the cost of prescription drugs

Biden called on Congress to lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices — something that was not in his latest proposal, the American Families Plan.

"We all know how outrageously expensive they are," he said. "In fact, we pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world right here in America — nearly three times as much as other countries.

"Let's do what we've always talked about," he added. "Let's give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs. ... We've talked about it long enough — Democrats and Republicans. Let's get it done this year."

Republicans did not clap or cheer during this part of Biden's address.

Biden goes off script to thank lawmakers for honoring late son

Biden strayed a bit from his prepared remarks while talking about the goal to end cancer by funding more research.

He recalled the passage of federal funding for cancer research at the end of his time as vice president, which was one of his major priorities in the Obama administration. 

In a moment of bipartisanship, he thanked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for suggesting that the previous bill's cancer provisions be named after Beau Biden, who died from cancer in 2015.

"You'll excuse the point of personal privilege. I'll never forget you standing, Mitch, and saying name it after my deceased son," Biden said.

Biden gives a shoutout to electric workers union

Biden, tying solutions to the climate crisis to the creation of new jobs, singled out by name the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union.

The shoutout appeared to be unscripted; it did not appear in prepared remarks from the White House. 

Biden weaved in the reference as he was talking about "electrical workers installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways." Biden eventually wound up on a common talking point from his 2020 campaign: "Unions build the middle class."

Unions — the IBEW, in particular — were a big part of Biden's campaign and among his earliest supporters at times he was struggling in the Democratic primaries. The IBEW endorsed Biden on Feb. 5, 2020, two days after he finished a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses, when his campaign was in real jeopardy.

Fact check: Biden says most jobs created under his infrastructure plan wouldn't require a college degree

Biden, promoting his infrastructure plan, made a specific claim about the types of jobs his plan would create.

"Nearly 90 percent of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan don't require a college degree. Seventy-five percent don't require an associate's degree," he said.

The 75 percent figure is accurate, according to at least one study — a research paper published this year by a pair of academics at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Analyzing census data and Biden's infrastructure plan, the study concluded that the "proposal would create jobs at every education level, but the majority of infrastructure jobs (75 percent) will be for people with no more than a high school diploma and some non-degreed short-term training — those who have been harmed most by technology change and trade since the mid-1980s."

Those jobs, the study found, "will consist of both those directly related to infrastructure — including jobs for tradesmen, construction workers, and material moving and transportation workers — as well as downstream jobs only somewhat related to infrastructure, such as in offices and retail services."

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Biden highlights cutting childhood poverty, hunger

Biden highlighted one of the benefits of his American Rescue Plan, which is its focus on childhood poverty and hunger. 

"Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we are on track to cut child poverty in America in half this year," Biden said. 

His Covid-19 relief bill restructured the child tax credit, giving a boost to low-income families. The Biden administration also announced this month that it will launch a summer food program to feed more than 30 million low-income children.