Joe Biden gives woman who lost job pep talk in weekly address revival

Joe Biden revived a tradition lost under former president Donald Trump. Credit: AP

US President Joe Biden gave a pep talk to a woman laid off because of the pandemic as part of an effort to help him engage more consistently with regular Americans.

The White House on Saturday released a two-and-a-half-minute video of Biden’s long-distance telephone conversation with Californian Michele Voelkert, identifying her only as Michele.

After losing her job at a startup clothing company in July, she wrote Mr Biden a letter. He read it, then called her.

She told him “it’s been a tough time” trying to find work.

The president, who spoke from his Oval Office desk, replied that his father used to say a job is about dignity and respect as much as it is about a paycheck.

He described his $1.9 trillion (£1.4 trillion) coronavirus relief plan, which calls for $1,400 payments to people like Voelkert, and other economic aid for individuals and small businesses.

There’s also money to help distribute coronavirus vaccines.

“I’ve been saying a long time, the idea that we think we can keep businesses open and moving and thriving without dealing with this pandemic is just a nonstarter,” he said.

How will Donald Trump's new clumsy-spelling lawyers defend him in the Senate trial? Listen to our latest US podcast below

The Sacramento Bee said it spoke to Voelkert, 47, after the call. “It was the opportunity of the lifetime,” she said. “I’m still riding high.”

The conversation is part of an effort to help Mr Biden, who has largely limited his travel because of the pandemic, communicate directly with Americans, the White House said.

Mr Biden did fly to Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday to spend the weekend at home with his family.

Analysis by ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy

Joe Biden is good at talking, good at empathising and good at engaging on a personal level. No surprise then that he has reinstated that presidential favourite, dubbed the fireside chat.

A chance to catch up with every day folks and get a message to the nation at the same time.

It was started by Franklin D Roosevelt back in March 1933. That first crackling wireless address was a pretty dense offering, 13 minutes on the banking crisis and what it meant for the American people.

President Biden’s first foray was an altogether different affair, though a similarly dark topic, coronavirus and it’s effect on ordinary lives.

He called a woman in California who had written to him after she had been laid off during the pandemic. It was all filmed and put out on social media.

Credit: AP/The White House

Michele Voelkert spoke of her need to work, the self-respect it gave her and her sadness at the impact of the pandemic on her life and the lives of others.

It was the perfect terrain for America’s consoler-in-chief and in true Biden style he spoke of his father’s same need for the dignity of work when he too lost his job. Then it was time to run through how his administration planned to tackle the crisis.

There was no doubting the challenges Michele Voelkert faced nor the President’s wish to help her solve them, but as many a politician will admit, finding the balance in these things is tricky.

For two and half minutes I wasn’t sure if I was watching a party political broadcast or an advert for elder care… for those of you old enough, imagine a cross between Thora Hird and her stairlifts and the Yellow Pages ad for Fly Fishing by JR Hartley.

Maybe I’m being too British about it all, the ad is racking up views and likes by the minute. I guess we’ll know whether it resonated with an American audience if Team Biden stick to a similar formula in the weeks ahead.