WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden celebrated passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in a ceremony Friday, kicking off a series of events the White House plans to hold around the country in the coming days to promote the package.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, Biden promoted the American Rescue Plan as a vessel to jump-start an economy still suffering from the impact of the pandemic by boosting the low- and middle-class workers who for too long, the president said, had been left behind.
"It changes the paradigm," Biden said of the package. "For the first time in a long time, this bill puts working people in this nation first. It's not a hyperbole."
Since Republicans in Congress unanimously opposed the bill, the event Friday was attended only by Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"I know how hard it is to pass major, consequential legislation, particularly when we only have such minor, small majorities in both houses," Biden said, thanking Democratic leadership for getting the bill through.
The relief plan is an early legislative win for the Biden administration, delivering some of the most generous aid to the poor in decades, fresh stimulus checks and extended enhanced unemployment assistance, among other benefits.
Biden, who ran on a message of unity and bipartisanship, had hoped to kick off his presidency by passing Covid-19 relief with support from both parties. But Republicans, who were willing to support similar packages under former President Donald Trump's leadership, took issue with the size of the bill and accused Democrats of out-of-control spending.
Administration officials have said they plan to use Republicans' opposition to the bill as a key talking point in the midterm elections next year, pointing to polls that show widespread public support for the package.
Biden said Friday that over 400 mayors, many of them Republicans, had reached out to him in support of the bill along with governors from both parties and said that the bill had earned support from "Democrats, independents and Republicans" because it "directly addressed the emergency in this country."
Biden emphasized the importance of "telling a story" and communicating in "concrete and specific ways" how the legislation will help the American public, which will be the focus of his next week as he embarks on a "Help Is Here" tour to promote the Covid-19 package.
As part of that effort, which the White House has said will make a priority of educating the American people on ways the relief can help them, Biden will hold an event Monday at the White House focused on the implementation of the aid.
"It's one thing to pass the American Rescue Plan; it's another thing to implement it," Biden said Friday. "It's going to require fastidious oversight to make sure there's no waste or fraud and the law does what it's designed to do."
Biden will also travel Tuesday to Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia that was key to his victory in Pennsylvania. Vice President Kamala Harris will travel Monday to Las Vegas and Tuesday to Denver; Nevada and Colorado are key swing states for Democrats.
It will be Harris' first official trip as vice president.
Biden and Harris are expected to end the week Friday with a stop in Atlanta, their first joint trip since taking office. Biden narrowly defeated Trump in Georgia, becoming the first Democrat to carry the state since 1992. Georgia also delivered Democrats a majority in the Senate, paving the way for Biden to push through his Covid-19 relief bill, by electing Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in January runoff races.
The Rose Garden event came after Biden delivered his first prime-time address as president Thursday night to mark one year of coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. Biden said that if all Americans do their part by getting vaccinated and continuing to follow health guidelines like mask-wearing, the country could return to some sense of normality by the Fourth of July.
Biden said Friday that the American Rescue Plan would help the country achieve that goal by providing funds to speed up vaccinations around the country.
Still, Biden again cautioned that despite the influx of economic aid and increase in the vaccine supply, "conditions can change" and the pandemic was "not over yet."
Lawmakers sat socially distanced outside for the event and wore masks.
"I wish I could come out and shake hands with every single one of you," Biden said. "Next time it won't be so far apart."