Before and after President Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, Republican lawmakers repeatedly blasted him for allegedly breaking his pledge to unify the country. But the problem may actually lie in the GOP’s concept of “unity.”
Biden has indeed pressed for unity in a number of statements and speeches he’s made before, including in his inauguration speech. Overcoming the challenges presently facing the country “requires more than words,” Biden said on January 20. “It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.”
Within that same speech, Biden noted he was for “uniting our people” and “uniting our nation.” To Republicans, however, calls for unity appear to only mean acquiescing or compromising with their demands, not the wants and needs of Americans as a whole.
On Wednesday afternoon, hours before Biden gave his speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) blasted Biden on the floor of the Senate for the American Rescue Plan (the economic relief package that passed in March with zero Republican support); the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; and H.R. 1, a bill that would reform election laws across the country.
“President Biden pledged he would be ‘A president for all Americans’ with plans to repair, restore and heal. But the first hundred days have left much to be desired,” McConnell complained, adding that the administration, in his view, had “given up on selling actual unity in favor of catnip for their liberal base.”
However, U.S. voters are overwhelmingly supportive of Biden and the Democrats’ policies. On the American Rescue Plan, for example, which included tax breaks for working families and checks of $1,400 to most Americans, 63 percent of voters said they supported its passage, according to a recent Gallup poll, while only 37 percent were against it.
A Data for Progress poll in February also found support for the election reforms found in H.R. 1, with 68 percent of respondents in favor of its passage and only 16 percent against it. Majority support for the bill crossed party lines, too, with 57 percent of Republicans saying they backed it as well.
And despite McConnell’s insistence that Biden wasn’t acting with unity in mind on Afghanistan withdrawal plans, 55 percent of Americans say they back removing U.S. troops from the country, with only 22 percent opposed, an Economist/YouGov poll found. In the same poll, a plurality of GOP respondents, 44 percent, said they also backed withdrawal, while 38 percent opposed it.
These findings didn’t stop Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), who delivered the official Republican response to Biden on Wednesday night, from making complaints McConnell shared earlier in the day.
“President Biden promised you a specific kind of leadership. He promised to unite a nation, to lower the temperature, to govern for all Americans, no matter how we voted,” Scott said in his remarks. “But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further apart.”
The poll numbers above seem to suggest otherwise, as most Americans fault Republicans when it comes to the issue of unity.
A CBS/YouGov poll published on Wednesday ahead of Biden’s speech asked respondents whether they felt Republicans in Congress should try to find common ground with the president. By a seven-to-three margin, voters said they should. Only 39 percent of voters said that Republicans were actually trying to work with Biden and Democrats on the issues facing the nation, while 61 percent said that Republicans were trying to oppose working with him. Meanwhile, 58 percent of voters said they viewed Biden as trying to make efforts to work with the GOP.
Polling taken immediately after Biden’s speech to Congress showed that most voters also felt that the president’s proposals, including the American Families Plan that was revealed earlier in the day, would move the country in the right direction, with 73 percent saying so in CNN/SSRS post-speech poll. Fifty-eight percent of speech-watchers also said they believed Biden did an adequate job of reaching out to Republicans in his remarks.