ABC followed the lead on Wednesday night of fellow broadcast networks CBS and NBC with their largely supportive coverage of President Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress. In ABC’s case, they called it a “Make America Feel Good Night” and “Make America Feel Pride Night” by “talk[ing] direction to people” following “an incredibly bold first 99 days” amidst the GOP’s “endless culture war.”
However, ABC joined CBS in actually talking about the GOP response from Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) (instead of almost pretending it didn’t exist after it ended) and, unlike CBS, it took NBC’s lead by featuring a Republican contributor with Chris Christie (while NBC went with National Review’s Rich Lowry).
Chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz was the most enthused, telling World News Tonight anchor David Muir that Biden has “really” been “trying to bring the country together” with Wednesday serving as “Make America Feel Good Night” and “Make America Feel Pride Night” by “trying to talk directly to people.”
Raddatz also fawned over how Biden showed the world “what democracy is” in the form of a “President who is proud of what we have done with covid, with vaccinations, and what that’ll mean” in the future.
She later resurfaced with the final word of the night so she could hang her hat on Biden’s line about how “it’s never been a good bet to bet against Americans and it still isn’t.”
Senior national correspondent Terry Moran’s heart was also set on Biden, offering a brief commentary on the fact that Biden’s speech was offered a “population, pragmatic agenda” as a “response” to how “the pandemic has exhausted people…as has the endless culture war” (in an indirect jab at the GOP) (click “expand”):
People fighting about what it means to be American, about identity and President Biden's response to that is two-fold. First, take off the mask and use government to try to make practical, pragmatic change for the better in people's lives. He's betting that that will calm the waters. The problem is those are all policy issues. Right now, those fights out there, they really aren't about policy. They are about identity.
The Republican Party is unlikely to give him many votes because it's a party that's ready to censure Liz Cheney because she recognizes the asthmatic of Joe Biden’s win. He has an uphill climb with the country. What we heard tonight was an old-time, populist, pragmatic agenda. The question is: Does the newfangled identity politics on both sides trump that?
Having assumed the lead anchor role for major news moments from George Stephanopoulos, Muir started the post-speech coverage with an inoffensive summary of the evening before going to Christie and liberals Rahm Emanuel and Yvette Simpson for the first of two discussions about the speech.
While Emanuel and Simpson offered predictable praise (with the latter being a progressive who had wanted to hear more), Christie’s critique was especially blunt, stating in part that “the words of this speech sounded like what you would hear from a 15-year-old if you gave him a credit card with no credit limit on it, except the words came out of the mouth of an adult who should know better.”
Senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce was stationed inside the House chamber and, in contrast to NBC’s Kasie Hunt’s analysis that the lack of Republican boos and jeers were a sign of a lack of opposition, Bruce diagnosed it as proof of “displeasure from the opposition” as “Republicans stayed mostly in their seats” and remained “largely stone-faced.”
But being such a loyal liberal journalist, Bruce worked in praise for Biden by lamenting that he’s “been, you know, sort of robbed of a lot of the normal interactions that a President would have with members of Congress,” so Wednesday was “a rare moment to see the President just being able to chat with some of his former colleagues.”
Muir offered somewhat of a reality check when he went to chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl with the reality that while Biden campaigned being bipartisan, his presidential record hasn’t reflected that with “not one Republican vote” for the American Rescue Plan.
Before Muir countered with a touting of White House’s attempt to redefine bipartisanship as whatever polls tell them, Karl referred to Biden’s “first 99 days here” as “incredibly bold,” but conceded his ideas won’t find much (if any) GOP support (click “expand”):
He's had an incredibly bold first 99 days here. Really bold, sweeping legislation on covid relief. But it's also the most expensive bill that Congress has ever passed without a single vote from the opposition party. He ad-libbed a moment tonight, David, to Mitch McConnell, saying he'll never forget the moment when McConnell stood up and said that a bill funding cancer research should be named after Beau Biden, Joe Biden's son. And that was a — that was a moment, a moment, classic Biden moment, but I don't think Republicans heard much of anything in this speech that they will be able to work with. They heard an agenda for the next 100 days and beyond that includes even more spending than what we saw in the first 100 days, tax increases across the board on upper income Americans and businesses that Republicans absolutely will not support. I don't think there will be any support for those proposals. Not to mention what he was talking about on comprehensive immigration reform, gun control, police reform is probably the one area where there's some real chance for bipartisan agreement, but not much in here that Republicans will latch onto at all.
As alluded to earlier, ABC was more aligned with CBS in actually talking about Scott’s speech after he concluded. In fact, Muir, correspondent Linsey Davis, and Nightline co-host Byron Pitts repeatedly praised him for both his tone and attempts to find common ground (click “expand”):
MUIR: South Carolina Senator Tim Scott putting the pressure on Democrats and Republicans to get work done here, in particular, on the issue of race and policing in our country. He made the argument that Democrats wanted to go it alone on covid relief, that they continue to want to go it alone with what President Biden proposed tonight before the American people. But he said race is not a political weapon and he spent a lot of time at the end of that response there talking about race and policing in America, saying nowhere do we need more common ground than on the issue of race. I want to bring in Linsey Davis on this, and we know that Senator Scott is playing actually a vital role behind the scenes, now that this George Floyd Policing Act has passed the House, it's now in the hands of the Senate.
DAVIS: That’s right and I thought it was interesting that quite often race tonight, the conversation, was around police reform and, of course, in just the past six weeks in this country, more than 100 Americans have been killed at the hands of police officers, disproportionately Black and Brown. I thought that he did a really effective job in kind of leaning appropriately into race and talking about his own experiences as a black man where he felt that his skin sometimes was the reason that he, even as a U.S. Senator, at times, has been racially profiled. But then he kept going back to that idea that common sense found common ground and I think that it’ll be interesting if we're able to, as he says, remain optimistic and hopeful, as he has talked about in the past, how in his long lifetime, his family has gone from cotton to Congress, because as we know, there is that sticking point, as far as immunity for police and he is saying that the police officers, maybe the police departments, maybe, should have the lawsuits and not the police officers themselves and so that continues to be something that keeps this from being bipartisan.
MUIR: That issue of immunity is what they're going to be negotiating in the Senate…I’m curious, Byron, if the end of that response there puts enormous pressure on Democrats and Republicans to do something, particularly at this moment in our country, after we watched Derek Chauvin found guilty on all charges and given the headlines as of late and this — this show of support across the country over this last year from diverse backgrounds, people of all backgrounds who want something done in our country and the fact that the President said just before Senator Scott, let's get something done and let's get it done by next month.
PITTS: Yeah, David, it seems that the President made clear tonight that he believes you can bridge America's racial divide with legislation. I mean, think about it that this President mentioned white supremacy and terrorism in the same sentence. And his talk about the George Floyd bill and what he thought that Congress could do as it relates to race relations and policing, it reminded me of the words of Dr. King in 1963 when he said, “it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.” So, I — I think many people will be encouraged. People who voted for — for Joe Biden, will be encouraged by his remarks in believing that the lawmakers can do something about this racial divide when it comes to policing.
DAVIS: From the pandemic, you go to the epidemic of violence and people just want life to return and parents want schools to open. As Tim Scott said, our schools should have been opened months ago, was his point and as of April 7th, only 46 percent of public schools in this country are open full-time for in-person learning.
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