Though not as over-the-top as NBC following President Biden’s Wednesday night address to Congress, CBS made sure viewers knew they were thoroughly behind his speech, calling it a speech consisting of “a broad, bold new plan” for America built on “bipartisan appeal,” lowering “the temperature,” and “simplicity” even though it was “very progressive.”
Immediately afterwards, Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell said Biden “offer[ed] a broad, bold new plan to not only build America back, in his words, but build America back better with trillions and trillions of dollars in new spending.”
And though little came as a surprise, O’Donnell added “[t]here were some real moments of bipartisan appeal.” To which, chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes concurred because she believed Biden “was swinging for the fences, trying to remind Republicans that there are some elements of his plans that they support as well and he's got to try to pass these big, bold, ambitious plans now.”
Cordes then hyped that although “[a] lot of the thing that are in those spending packages are incredibly popular when you're talking about universal pre-k and lowering the cost of child care and free community college,” he still needed to break through to Republicans that his agenda “is something that the American people want.”
Lacking a conservative or Republican voice, O’Donnell and Cordes relied on former Obama official Joel Payne to stack the deck, starting with O’Donnell’s observation to him that Biden’s “substance” was “very progressive.”
Payne agreed, saying without pushback that while Biden “speaks as a deal-making moderate,” his governance was that of “a progressive” and that, in his mind, makes Biden “so effective” and “successful.”
Recognizing that Biden could lose control of Congress by January 2023, the trio engaged in an unofficial White House strategy session, which included Payne hailing the administration’s “simplicity” in naming their policy proposals (click “expand”)
O’DONNELL: You know, the thing I'm struck by, too, Nancy, they do have the sense of urgency, not because they also believe that, ultimately, America is in a state of crisis, but also because this idea the Democrats only have a three, four-seat majority in the House. They could lose that in the midterms, that if they want to get this big stuff done, they have to do it now while the Democrats have the majority. But the list is so long.
O’DONNELL: In addition to the jobs plan, infrastructure, human infrastructure, he mentioned guns. He mentioned immigration. What's realistic?
CORDES: Race and policing, voting rights. I mean, the list goes on and on, and there are Democrats who are sometimes frustrated that he doesn't put some of these are other issues at the top of the agenda. They think those things are almost more important, but you’ve got to start somewhere and Joe Biden with his three decades in the Senate knows better than anyone if you try to crowd the agenda and do everything at once, often the whole plan can fall apart. Congress does not do well when it's focusing on a whole bunch of things at the same time and so he's going to start with infrastructure, hoping that he can ram that through over the next couple of months. He is sitting down next week with Republicans who have a counter-proposal, but it is only about a quarter of the size of the infrastructure package that he is proposing and it pays for itself in a completely different way. It's really hard to see right now how these two sides meet in the middle.
PAYNE: Norah, I'm struck by the simplicity of the Biden approach and the Biden plans, even the names of them. The American Family Plan, the American Jobs Plan, American Rescue Plan. The — the President and his team has decided we need to take the temperature down in Washington and across the country and everything stylistically they've done has supported that notion.
Before a break, Cordes’s White House colleague Ed O’Keefe broke down the speech in two parts as one to the American people and then one to Congress with time spent that O’Keefe called “probably one of the first times in this setting we’ve heard an American President try to talk to Congress and the American public about the ongoing rise of China and what's coming if President Xi gets his way.”
O’Donnell and Payne both went on to vent ad nauseam about this supposedly excellent point and what Biden has framed as the need to follow his agenda in order to stand up to China, but a quick glance of Donald Trump’s congressional speeches and he held little back in calling out the communist country and the overall fight against far-left governments.
Unlike NBC, CBS spent over two full minutes talking about Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) after he delivered the GOP response and nearly another two minutes on Scott’s attempt to reach a compromise on police reform.
Congressional correspondent Nikole Killion admitted that Scott’s story was “really embodiment of the American dream to many,” and that past coronavirus relief packages were indeed bipartisan before Biden’s American Rescue Plan became a partisan vote.
But with O’Donnell adding the caveat that Scott wasn’t “really the one” the GOP “puts out front” on “many of its issues,” Payne tried to downplay Scott’s influence:
The — the dominant voices you hear from the Republican Party are Marjorie Taylor Green, former President Trump, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy. It's great that they want to highlight a young, dynamic conservative like Tim Scott, but there is some disambiguation from what people normally hear from the Republican Party and what they saw tonight, which was a very workman-like, yoman speech from Senator Scott. We’ll see if it lands.
Following a praiseworthy segment from CBS medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook about Biden’s missed opportunity on fighting vaccine hesitancy and refusing to acknowledge Operation Warp Speed, O’Donnell closed out the night with Cordes and Payne by holding another Team Biden strategy session on how his agenda can cross the finish line.
Of particular note, Payne reiterated a hilarious comment from earlier when he said that Biden’s speech tonight was an extension of his attempts to lower “the temperature” in the political discourse with “less partisanship” (click “expand”):
O’DONNELL: And, you know, as we think about this evening tonight, this is the beginning, really, in some ways, for President Biden. He was doing the rescue part with his first big bill to get all the vaccines out, to get the $1,400 checks to 85 percent of American households. Now he's doing what he calls the recovery. The question is really — can there really be an infrastructure plan that ever passed? Trump said he wanted to do it. Will they get it done?
CORDES: He's already a step ahead of President Trump because President Trump never actually introduced a plan. The risk for President Biden, as you heard from both Senator Ernst and Senator Scott in his Republican response, is the risk of going so big that you allow the other side to paint you as a prolific spender. No one really knows what's in this package —
O’DONNELL: Tim Scott said socialist dreams.
CORDES: — exactly. And, you know, going big means it's one and done. And that is an advantage of taking this approach. The downside is you make it easier for your opponents to pick out things in that huge package that they don't like, and to run ads and try to convince Americans that the whole thing needs to be scrapped.
O’DONNELL: We talk about the lines that got both Republicans and Democrats to go on their feet and there was — there is no reason the blades for wind turbines can't be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing. Everyone believes in made in America.
PAYNE: Cheering on America is always going to do well on a night like this. Norah, a theme that they see throughout the Biden presidency, I saw tonight, it's the common thread, and it's taking the temperature down. Not just covid, not just the last four years of Donald Trump, really the last 20 years in American political life has been really intense and I think the President has decided the American people need me to come in and be a healing balm, and I think you are seeing that as a core part of his political philosophy and ideology. Let's bring the temperature down. Let's less flash, less partisanship. At least let's talk about less flash and partisanship but let's go big on the things that matter.
One could assume that’s true, but only after having discounted lines and topics such as gun bans, harming freelance workers by expanding the power of unions, refusing to work with school choice advocates, saying January 6 was the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War, trillions of spending in government expansion, and word games on what constitutes infrastructure to name a few.
Otherwise, it all sounds great.