After President Joe Biden’s speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, he will face a response coming from an unusual place — a member of his own party.
It’s typical for such speeches, whether they be State of the Union addresses or other events that take place before a joint session of Congress, to include a rebuttal or response from a president’s opposing party. Biden himself has gave such responses in 1983 and 1984 following speeches from former President Ronald Reagan. Republicans are already planning to give such a rebuttal.
But Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), a progressive lawmaker who has urged Biden to go further left on a number of issues, is preparing a response to the president’s speech as well. It’s expected that within his remarks Bowman will urge Biden to take more progressive stances — and doing so in a fast fashion, while the president still has Democratic majorities in Congress backing him up.
“[Bowman’s] main message is that this is a narrow historic moment of opportunity … and we need to take advantage of that and meet the moment with even bolder action on climate change, bold action to combat racial and economic inequality,” Bowman spokesperson Karthik Ganapathy said to Reuters. “He really feels the sense of urgency that this moment calls for.”
Bowman will be delivering the response on behalf of the Working Families Party (WFP), a left-leaning organization that has delivered its own response to presidential speeches like these for the previous three years during the tenure of former President Donald Trump.
The organization doesn’t appear content to stop delivering its own message now that a Democrat is in office, either. Noting that former President Barack Obama also promised big changes but moved to more moderate positions after the conservative Tea Party wave of 2010, WFP National Director Maurice Mitchell said it was important to deliver a message to the centrist-leaning Biden.
“If we want Democrats and progressives to be in a position for success, then our movement cannot demobilize,” Mitchell said. “And our movement needs to stay in the fight. We need to push the realm of what’s possible.”
Bowman has noted in the past that pressing Biden to take a more progressive approach has worked. Last fall, during his congressional campaign, Bowman encouraged progressives to demonstrate to Biden and other centrist Democrats that progressive stances were better for the country.
“The country supports universal health care, the country supports environmental justice and criminal justice reform and an end to police brutality and investing in public health in a way that’s different from investing in more policing,” Bowman noted in an interview with Hill.TV in August. “So the country is speaking, and the Democrats have to listen, and we’ll continue to apply the pressure in the areas it needs to be provided.”
Just last week, Bowman praised Biden for heading “the most progressive White House we’ve ever had,” but reiterated the need to continue pressuring Biden to go left. Bowman criticized the president for expressing more concern about property damage than about police brutality during protests over the police-perpetrated killing of Daunte Wright; proposing insufficient funds for affordable housing in his infrastructure package; and urged Biden to be “more ambitious with the green infrastructure push.”
Bowman is expected to deliver his speech after Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress as president, which will be at 9 pm Eastern Time on Wednesday. Speeches like these typically occur in February, but due to the pandemic, it was delayed to this month.
Other precautions are being taken for the speech, including limiting who can attend. Around 1,600 guests are invited to these speeches, but to account for the continued threat of coronavirus, only 200 guests in addition to members of Congress will be invited. Other branches of government will pare down their attendance; for instance, Chief Justice John Roberts will be the sole representative of the Supreme Court attending the speech, as opposed to the normal nine that are typically there. There will also be fewer members of the presidential cabinet in attendance than in years’ past.
A president’s first speech to Congress is not officially a State of the Union address, but rather an opportunity to “sell” their agenda to Congress and to the American people, according to Martha Joynt Kumar, co-founder and director for the White House Transition Project, who spoke to PBS NewsHour about the matter.
Biden is expected to address a number of topics, including the nation’s status regarding the pandemic, the positive effects of the economic relief package that was passed earlier this year, and his $2 trillion infrastructure bill that the administration is hoping to get passed by Congress.
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