Biden Makes Pitch to Congress as 100 Day-Mark Approaches
Tonight’s speech caps a frenzied beginning on the domestic front, but foreign-policy efforts still have room for improvement.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, India’s COVID-19 cases break records again, and Somalia’s president bows to pressure and calls for elections.
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Biden to Push Priorities in Congressional Address
Tonight in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver his first address to a joint session of U.S. Congress as he approaches a key milestone in his presidential term.
No U.S. president since John F. Kennedy has delivered an official State of the Union address in the same year they were inaugurated, and Biden is keeping with tradition. So, rather than reciting a laundry list of policy priorities and successes that are typical in those speeches, Biden will instead make the case for two major spending proposals totaling nearly $4 trillion.
His American Jobs Plan focuses on revitalizing the country’s infrastructure, from roads and bridges to broadband and the electrical grid. The plan also doubles as an investment in U.S. climate change priorities, with more than half of the spending proposals addressing climate-related challenges, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Biden’s second major package, the American Families Plan, seeks to expand the U.S. welfare state to include universal early childhood education and introduce a paid family leave policy among other “human infrastructure” improvements. In countries like France, the United Kingdom, and Israel, education for 3 and 4 year olds is a right, with almost 100 percent of children enrolled in education programs. In the United States, only 40 percent of 3 year olds and 70 percent of 4 year olds are enrolled in preschool.
Biden’s report card. Biden’s address comes as he approaches his first 100 days in office, and although it has been marked by bold moves on the domestic front, critics say Biden has not brought that same energy to the foreign-policy realm, with a slow effort to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and this week’s belated response to India’s COVID-19 surge giving fuel to his detractors.
Room for improvement. Foreign Policy gathered 25 experts to assess Biden’s progress so far. On average, Biden should be happy with his report card, but experts want more from the president on Middle East issues, Russia, and immigration. Giving Biden a C+ on the Middle East, Mina Al-Oraibi, editor in chief of the National and columnist at Foreign Policy, wants more action from the Biden administration where so far “little has come from Washington but words.”
Where experts are united in their praise is on Biden’s approach to U.S. alliances. Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen commends Biden for his sincere bid to restore U.S. leadership on the world stage, giving him an A grade, and calls on him to continue his efforts “to drag multilateralism out of its malaise.”
What We’re Following Today
India breaks records again. Indian authorities reported 360,960 new COVID-19 cases in the country on Wednesday, a global record. India also recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic to date, with 3,293 new deaths, bringing the official death toll to 201,187. As India’s crisis continues, a virus variant first identified in the country has now spread to at least 17 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Writing in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, Anik Joshi explained the factors that have led to India’s “compound disaster.”
Somali president calls for elections. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has backtracked from a plan to extend his term by two years, calling for fresh elections to resolve the country’s political crisis. Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, had remained the president even after his term expired in February following a dispute on how to hold new elections. His decision to stay raised the threat of EU and U.S. sanctions and led to violence on the streets of Mogadishu as recently as last Sunday.
Persian Gulf tensions. A U.S. Navy vessel fired warning shots to deter Iranian military speedboats on Monday, the Navy said on Tuesday. Three Iranian vessels are said to have come within less than 70 yards of a U.S. Navy ship as well as one manned by the U.S. Coast Guard as they patrolled the Persian Gulf. A U.S. statement said Iranian boats “increased the risk of miscalculation and/or collision” and warned that U.S. sailors “retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.”
Keep an Eye On
Switzerland’s next referendum. Switzerland will hold a referendum on same-sex marriage, even though the Swiss Parliament already voted to allow it in December 2020, after opponents gathered the 50,000 signatures required to force a direct vote. While a 2020 survey indicated more than 80 percent of citizens support same-sex marriage, the referendum will prolong the fight over marriage rights in a country that has already been slower to legalize same-sex marriage than many other European nations.
Afghanistan withdrawal. The U.S. State Department has ordered all U.S. government employees “whose functions can be performed elsewhere” to leave Afghanistan. Ross Wilson, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the decision was necessary in the wake of “increasing violence and threat reports.” The order comes two days after the U.S. military said it had begun the process of withdrawing its remaining troops from the country, in line with Biden’s plan for a full withdrawal by Sept. 11.
Odds and Ends
Shipping containers are falling off cargo vessels at the highest rate in seven years, according to new figures from Bloomberg. More than 3,000 containers fell into the sea last year, and more than 1,000 containers have already dropped off in 2021. As the Ever Given’s unfortunate trip through the Suez Canal illustrated, the growing size of container vessels is leading to containers being stacked higher and higher, increasing the risk of toppling over. Paired with rougher seas and higher consumer demand during the pandemic, the ships have struggled to deliver 100 percent of their cargo. Though losing a container overboard is a headache for shipping firms, the problem is still quite minimal: Only 3,000 lost containers of 226 million did not reach their destinations in 2020.
Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn