President Joe Biden said Wednesday he views the challenges ahead of the country as a question of whether democracy can succeed in the 21st century.
Speaking in the afternoon as he approached his 100th day in office, and just hours before his first address to a joint session of Congress, Biden said this moment in time is pivotal.
"They're going to write about this point in history," Biden told a small group of network and cable news anchors assembled at the White House. "Not about any of us in here, but about whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century."
Biden continued, "You know, things are moving so damn rapidly. Things are changing so rapidly in the world, in science and technology and a whole range of other issues, that -- the question is: In a democracy that's such a genius as ours, can you get consensus in the timeframe that can compete with autocracy?"
The autocracy versus democracy question is central to the US-China relationship, something Biden said he's debated and discussed at length with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi, Biden said, is betting that "democracy cannot -- cannot -- keep up with him."
Biden is betting on democracy -- and that, in his view, will require consensus and big investments. Central to that challenge will be the consensus of Congress, and whether he's able to forge ahead and pass key legislative priorities with a 50-50 Senate.
Biden addressed the importance of needing to succeed right out of the box in his presidency, seeing the two critical issues as the health of the country -- both physical health and economic health.
That's why he focused like a laser, as he said, on the American Rescue Plan -- the sweeping $1.9 trillion legislation that passed on a party-line vote in the House and Senate last month. Biden touted the importance of the bill's $1,400 stimulus checks, noting that 85% of the households in the country benefited from the payments and that 1.3 million jobs were created in the first 100 days of his presidency.
Looking ahead, Biden is moving ahead with his proposed two-part infrastructure plan, which aides have described as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the American economy.
He will be addressing the American Families Plan -- a social infrastructure package that will include funding for universal pre-K, two years of free community college, and paid family leave, among other provisions -- in his remarks to Congress, telling the anchors Wednesday that while he is willing to make a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, he thinks this is an inflection point in the country, and the world, and now is a time to go big.
As for whether there will be bipartisan consensus in future legislation, including the proposed infrastructure bills, Biden said he is eager to work with Republicans, but needs a unified GOP to negotiate with, not a splintered party.
Biden and other officials have repeatedly said that their definition of "bipartisan" support for infrastructure doesn't necessarily mean Republican votes in Congress, but rather, support from a majority of Americans.
"This government is founded on this notion that -- you know, sounds corny: 'We the People.' And there's nothing we're going to be able to get done unless we can convince the American people it's possible to do it," Biden told the anchors.
Part of that convincing will include a multi-state travel blitz, starting with a trip to Georgia on Thursday and a visit to a Philadelphia train station on Friday.
Reflecting on his first 100 days in office, Biden said his goal was clear: "Ease the pain, save lives, put people in a position where they have reason to believe that they could actually get back and earn a living and provide for their families. That's how I looked at the first 100 days."