WASHINGTON — President Biden declared Thursday that “COVID no longer controls our lives” this Christmas, despite recently citing the pandemic in an attempt to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt per borrower.
“Things are getting better. COVID no longer controls our lives. Our kids are back in school. People are back to work,” Biden said in what was meant to be an uplifting holiday-themed speech from the White House.
The president ordered the loan forgiveness on Aug. 24, two-and-a-half months ahead of the midterm elections, saying the COVID-19 outbreak meant he could forgive roughly $400 billion in federally owned debt, sparking a legal fight that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court.
Biden leaned on a 2003 law that allows the president to “alleviate hardship” for student loan recipients during a national emergency.
The high court will hear arguments Feb. 28 in lawsuits filed against Biden’s plan by six Republican-led states and a conservative advocacy group.
Biden’s speech, which followed a morning briefing on severe winter weather expected to impact 26 states, focused mainly on providing a positive message for the country.
Biden cast himself as a unifier, saying: “I sincerely hope this holiday season will drain the poison that has infected our politics and has set us against one another” — overlooking his own contributions to partisan rancor.
“Our politics has gotten so angry, so mean, so partisan,” Biden said. “And too often we see each other as enemies, not as neighbors — as Democrats or Republicans, not as fellow Americans. We’ve become too divided.”
Over the past year, Biden stridently condemned what he called “semi-fascism” among Republicans. In a September primetime speech, he bashed “MAGA Republicans” as “a threat to this country” in what critics called a swipe at the 74 million Americans who voted for then-President Donald Trump in 2020. The backlash was so severe that Biden was forced to walk back his remarks.
“The Christmas story is at the heart of the Christian faith,” Biden also said Thursday. “But the message of hope, love, peace and joy, they’re also universal. It speaks to all of us, whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or any other faith or no faith at all — it speaks to all of us as human beings who are here on this Earth.”
“The message of Christmas is always important and it’s especially important through tough times like the ones we’ve been through the past few years,” he went on.
“The pandemic has taken so much from us. We’ve lost so much time with one another. We’ve lost so many people, people we loved — over a million lives lost in America alone. That’s a million empty chairs, breaking hearts in homes all across the country.”
The president, who is expected to visit a children’s hospital on Friday, said that people should go out of their way to be kind to one another — noting that he can understand holiday gloom because his first wife and daughter died in a car crash a week before Christmas in 1972.
“So many people struggle with Christmas. It can be a time of great pain and terrible loneliness … Sometimes the smallest act of kindness can mean so much,” Biden said. “This Christmas, let’s spread a little kindness.”