President Biden marked the 100th day of his presidency at an outdoor rally Thursday evening in suburban Atlanta, the locale that not only propelled him to the White House last fall, but enabled his administration’s early success.
Taking the stage amid a din of honking horns and looking out on a vast blacktop of more than 300 parked cars, Biden stood before large banners that read “Getting Back On Track” as he celebrated the progress made against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden highlighted the doubling of his initial goal of administering 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days, and he touted the $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan he enacted in March that delivered $1,400 direct relief checks to millions of Americans.
The scale of the sweeping legislation, which also included a child tax credit for families and funding for mass vaccination sites and schools seeking to reopen, was enabled by the Democrats’ sweep of two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January that wrested control of the Senate from Republicans and cleared a path for Biden to go big.
“Those two votes made the difference!” Biden said, describing the COVID-19 relief bill as “one of the most consequential” laws ever enacted. “It passed by a single vote. That means we owe a special thanks to the people of Georgia. Because thanks to you, the rest of the American people were able to get the help they need.”
The two senators who won those races, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, attended the rally, which was sponsored by the Democratic Party, and joined the president on stage as he concluded his speech.
Biden, well aware of the precariousness of Democrats’ narrow majority in an evenly divided Senate, urged voters to help reelect Warnock next year: “We won the first round, but there’s more coming up,” he told the crowd.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also showed up — Democratic stars looking to help solidify the party’s grip on this hotly contested state that will be critical in deciding the balance of power again in the 2022 midterm election and the next presidential contest in 2024.
Georgia has also been at the center of a national debate around voting rights. Last month, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law new GOP-backed restrictions on state elections, including limiting voting by mail while giving greater oversight of elections to the Republican-led state Legislature.
“It’s just wrong,” Biden said of the law, calling on Congress to take up two Democratic bills that seek to protect voting rights.
In the near term, Georgia offered Biden his first barnstorming opportunity following his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night as he looks to drum up public support for a legislative agenda that is increasingly ambitious and progressive.
Biden is eager to follow up on his coronavirus relief bill with another $4 trillion of investments in the country’s infrastructure and expanded benefits for workers and families. He touted new jobs numbers showing the economy growing at a rate of 6.4% as proof that government action will pay dividends.
“As much as we’ve done, we’ve got more to do,” he said.
While traveling in Georgia, Biden spoke with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the architect of the GOP counterproposal on infrastructure. According to the White House, they had a “warm conversation” and discussed the possibility of meeting in person soon to continue talks.
After proposing his $2.25-trillion infrastructure package weeks ago, Biden this week laid out a companion proposal to invest another $1.8 trillion in subsidies that would give all Americans access to two years of free preschool and two years of free community college. It would guarantee that low-income families pay no more than 7% of their earnings on child care, expand a number of tax credits and enact a more generous federal paid family and medical leave policy.
The American Families Plan, like the proposed investments in the American Jobs Plan to improve roads, bridges, rail lines and airports, would be paid for by altering the tax code so that the wealthiest Americans and large corporations contribute more.
Biden and aides have argued that the proposals are “generational investments” that are critical to ensuring America has the “human infrastructure” for long-term competitiveness with China. Moreover, the White House argues, the investments will fuel economic growth.
Biden had a similar drive-in rally scheduled in Georgia in March to promote the COVID-19 relief package that passed that month, but instead ended up meeting with grieving Asian Americans after deadly attacks at three Atlanta-area spas. Eight people were killed — six of them women of Asian descent — and a 21-year-old white man was arrested. Those attacks and other recent shootings have led to a renewed push for gun safety measures.
As the president began his remarks Thursday, a few protesters interrupted, shouting, “End detention now!” in reference to private holding centers.
“I agree with you. I’m working on it, man,” he said, telling the crowd that he opposes private prisons. “We are working to close all of them.... I promise you.” Biden has said before, including during his campaign, that he would end the for-profit, private detention of immigrants.
Before the rally, Biden flew to Plains, Ga., to visit former President Carter, 96, and wife Rosalynn Carter, 93, who have remained active but were not able to attend the January inauguration due to the pandemic.
Addressing the crowd at the start of the rally, First Lady Jill Biden said the Carters are “a powerful reminder that serving your country isn’t just about the office you hold.”