Joe Biden declares 'America's democracy is rising anew' in speech full of 'firsts'

Credit: AP

ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy runs through the speech's highlights

He’s listened to them for decades, so Joe Biden probably had a pretty good idea what it takes to be a good turn when it comes to addressing the joint houses of Congress.

His advisers say he has worked on it for weeks. In reality, it’s probably more like a lifetime, since he first got into the Senate in 1973. These were 6,045 words he has waited a long time to deliver. And of course no one does folksy tales quite like the current President, so this was a perfect stage.

Jobs, housing, belief in America, the middle class who built America, the unions who built America, the need for a $15 minimum wage, equal pay...

Joe Biden Credit: AP

But despite his decades on the Senate floor neither he nor anyone else had experienced the night in quite this form. This was history being rewritten for a presidency in a pandemic.There was of course the walk down the centre aisle but Joe Biden was the first - and potentially the only - President to walk it in a mask, with an audience of less than half of the 535. There was certainly none of the usual backslapping and jollity that accompanies these events. A few fist pumps the new normal. Because not all the cabinet could be present this year there was no “designated survivor”, the politician kept far from the event incase of catastrophe. (No it wasn’t just Kiefer Sutherland, there normally is one!) Yet for all the traditions lost to the pandemic this presidency is bringing its own change and with it a number of firsts based on choice not circumstance.

Vice President Kamala Harris greets House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ahead of Joe Biden addressing a joint session of Congress. Credit: AP

This was the first time two women have sat behind the President - never before has there been a female speaker of the House and Vice President.There was no First Lady’s Box as tradition dictates, partly because of coronavirus and partly because this year there’s a First Lady and a Second Gentleman. And behind all this, firsts not so obvious but part of Team Biden. This is an administration with the first black Secretary of Defence, Pete Buttigieg the first LGBTQ cabinet secretary approved by the Senate, Alejandro Mayorkas the first Latino immigrant Secretary of Homeland Security and Janet Yellen as first woman to lead the Treasury. And yet this was a speech still steeped in history. A chance for the President to deliver a wish list. And deliver it he did, whether he can deliver in reality is another matter. This is a man with history, trying to deliver his own contribution to the future, guided by the past.