Biden: ‘I don’t think the American people are racist, but ...’

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Biden Addresses Congress , on the Eve of His First 100 Days as President.President Joe Biden addressed an abbreviated joint session of Congress due to the ongoing pandemic ...and a Capitol under sustained security measures following the Jan. 6 insurrection.Biden began his speech by acknowledging the historical precedent set by the two women seated on the dais behind him: .Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.Madam Speaker. Madam Vice President. No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time, President Joe Biden, via 'The New York Times'.For the rest of his speech from the presidential podium, Biden struck an optimistic tone.citing the logistical success of the vaccine rollout and the impact of the American Rescue Plan legislation.America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility, President Joe Biden, via 'The New York Times'.Biden implored the nation to come together, urging bipartisanship in order to "defend American interests across the board.".He spoke about his vision for the U.S. and touted his infrastructure plan and American Families Plan.two massive pieces of legislation that would equateto nearly $4 trillion over the next decade.Biden received tepid Republican support of his speech, with TX Senator Ted Cruz appearing to doze off during sections.But he referred to his vision for the future of the U.S. as a "once-in-a-generation investment in America itself." .We’re in a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better, President Joe Biden, via 'The New York Times'

On his 100th day in office, President Joe Biden said the nation he governs isn’t racist, but he said Black Americans continue to suffer the aftereffects of 400 years of social, political and economic deprivation, for which the U.S. must atone.

Biden made his comments while responding to a question on NBC’s “TODAY” show from Craig Melvin, who asked the president if he thought America is racist.

“No, I don’t think the American people are racist,” Biden told “TODAY.” “But I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they’re so far behind the eight ball in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunity.”

Melvin asked Biden specifically about the GOP response to the president’s first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole Black Republican senator, said Democrats use race as “a political weapon” to divide the country.

While acknowledging that “our healing is not finished,” Scott said Democrats and liberals have turned the race issue upside down.

“It’s backward to fight discrimination with different discrimination,” he said. “And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”

“Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants,” Scott said.

In the “TODAY” interview that aired Thursday night on “NBC Nightly News,” Biden added, “I don’t think America’s racist, but I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow (laws), and before that slavery, have had a cost, and we have to deal with it.”

Asked Thursday about Scott’s comment, Vice President Kamala Harris told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “No, I don’t think America is a racist country, but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country.”

She added: “One of the greatest threats to our national security is domestic terrorism manifested by white supremacists. These are issues that we must confront, and it does not help to heal our country, to unify us as a people, to ignore the realities of that.”

Biden and other Democrats have cited institutional racism as a major national problem.

Explore‘Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President’ | Harris, Pelosi make history

Scott also criticized the new president’s initial priorities — aimed at combating the deadly virus and spurring the economy — as wasteful expansions of big government.

“We should be expanding options and opportunities for all families,” said Scott, who preaches a message of optimism while remaining a loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump, “not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best.”

Citing the partisan battle over Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which Congress approved over unanimous GOP opposition, Scott said: “We need policies and progress that bring us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further apart.”

ExploreREAD: Sen. Tim Scott’s GOP response to President Biden’s speech

Biden’s address came three months into a presidency that’s seen Republicans repeatedly accuse him of abandoning his campaign pledge to seek bipartisan compromises. While Biden cited a rosy roster of accomplishments and goals in his own speech — “America is on the move again,” he said — Scott said it was Republicans who had bolstered the economy and began to tame the pandemic.

“This should be a joyful springtime for our nation,” said Scott, citing the Trump administration’s role in helping spur vaccine development and beginning a revival of the staggered economy. “This administration inherited a tide that had already turned. The coronavirus is on the run!”

Scott cited low unemployment rates for minorities before the pandemic struck last year, calling it “the most inclusive economy in my lifetime.” And he praised GOP efforts including tax breaks to encourage business investments in low-income communities.

“Our best future won’t come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams,” he said, echoing the GOP’s oft-repeated theme that Democrats are pushing far-left plans. “It will come from you — the American people.”

Those messages could make Scott a positive messenger for the GOP in what could otherwise be a divisive 2022 election campaign, when the party has high hopes of winning control of the House and perhaps the Senate. Scott is strongly favored to be reelected next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.