On the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Joe Biden addressed Americans Thursday night. In Biden’s speech, he discussed what we’ve lost, how we’ve pulled together, and what lies ahead. He also used his nationally televised speech to share details about the newly passed and signed American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package that’s drawing a wide range of reactions from faith leaders.
President Biden: We’ve Found “Light in the Darkness”
After acknowledging the suffering, sacrifices, and “the loss of life and the loss of living,” Biden described ways the American people have been “finding light in the darkness.” He praised scientists for making swift progress on the COVID-19 vaccine front and urged citizens to get the shot as soon as their turn arrives. “All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1,” Biden promised.
The president added that although the goal is for Americans to be able to spend “July 4th with your loved ones,” we “can’t let our guard down.” In his closing, Biden said, “Please, God, give solace to all those people who lost someone.”
Following Biden’s speech, evangelist Franklin Graham, who had supported former President Donald Trump, posted on Facebook: “I was appreciative of his positive approach, encouraging Americans that we will come out of this pandemic but still cautioning us not to let our guard down. Thank you, Mr. President, and we will pray for those who have lost loved ones, that God would wrap His loving arms around them and give them peace and comfort.”
Graham added, “I do wish President Biden had also thanked former President Trump for all of his work to fight the coronavirus early on, waiving the red tape so that the vaccine could be completed and reaching the American people by Christmas. I encourage everyone to continue to pray for our nation and our leaders—we need God’s help and mercy.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, also took to social media, tweeting: “Joe Biden breaks his arm patting himself on the back for building on Covid response made possible by Pres Trump & Operation Warp Speed but Biden gives Trump no credit.” Huckabee added, “Hey Joe will we still be able to celebrate July 4? Not because of Covid but will the left cancel a celebration of America?”
Reactions to the American Rescue Plan
President Biden also used his primetime speech to describe features of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which he’d signed into law earlier in the day. The “historic piece of legislation…delivers immediate relief to millions of people,” Biden said, through $1,400 stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, small-business assistance, lower health-care premiums, and food and housing assistance. “And it will cut child poverty in this country in half, according to the experts,” said the president.
Reactions to the $1.9 trillion legislation were swift, with some people praising the assistance it promises and others criticizing what they consider overreach and partisanship. Several faith-based social-justice groups issued statements in support of the ARP. Diane Randall, general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, said, “President Biden made it clear he wants to go big in taking on COVID-19. As people of faith, we agree. It is a moral imperative to confront the pandemic and care for all of those left in its disastrous wake.”
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, responded to the ARP this way: “My Catholic faith demands that we must individually and collectively help those in need…and the American Rescue Plan is the faithful answer to those in need.”
The Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, says the new administration’s approach to coronavirus relief will “require long-term, fundamental transformation.” He tweeted, “President Biden & Vice President Harris, now that the American Rescue Plan Act has been signed into law, we cannot accept the poverty & low-income of 140 million Americans before COVID. We need healthcare for all, voting rights for all & a moral agenda.”
Critics Decry Liberal Overspending, Abortion Expansion
The legislation’s massive scale and wide-ranging provisions raise fears for other faith leaders. The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warns that the ARP isn’t a stimulus bill, as it was “sold,” but rather “a redefinition of our federal government.” In the Friday “Briefing” posted on his website, Mohler calls the law “a check” that the U.S. government “can’t back.”
The nation’s economy is already “well on its way to recovery,” adds Mohler, who says now “the economy will be so flushed with cash that there is a very real danger of inflation.” Calling the ARP “an extremely liberal bill,” he accuses the Democratic Party of using the coronavirus crisis to redefine “the entire welfare system,” expand the Affordable Care Act, and take steps toward programs such as universal basic income.
Though Biden ran as “Mr. Bipartisan,” says Mohler, the president and congressional Democrats managed to pass the legislation “entirely on party lines” using the reconciliation process.
Pro-life groups also are raising concerns about the ARP, because they say funds distributed through it won’t be protected by the Hyde Amendment. That means there’s no guarantee that taxpayer money won’t be used to fund abortions.
The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List released a statement blasting the omission of Hyde protections in the ARP. Group president Marjorie Dannenfelser says Biden “has fully caved to the extremists in his party, signing a massive expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion.” She calls the ARP’s passage “tragic” and “such an offense to conscience.” Dannenfelser adds, “And what does this have to do with COVID RELIEF? Using a vulnerable moment to victimize the most vulnerable.”
The Family Research Council (FRC) voices similar concerns, saying the ARP “tears down the firewall between taxpayers and abortion.” On its website, the FRC provides more details about the law, which it calls “a bad deal for taxpayers, the economy, and especially the unborn.”