Milwaukee (AFP) - President Joe Biden sidestepped a divided Congress and went straight to the nation Tuesday with a primetime televised town hall in Wisconsin seeking support for his $1.9 trillion economic rescue package.
"Now is the time we should spending. Now is the time to go big," Biden told the live CNN audience in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
With lawmakers reeling from the aftermath of Donald Trump's impeachment acquittal, Biden used his first official trip away from Washington as president to address ordinary voters.
His stimulus package would more than double the previous measure passed by Congress, after intense debate, in December.
The administration says massive injections of money, including $1,400 checks sent to many Americans, are vital to preventing a sluggish economic recovery from stalling altogether.
Another major goal of the spending spree is to boost the Covid-19 vaccine rollout -- a logistical, medical and financial challenge upon which Biden's entire first term may hang.
But the stimulus bill's price tag, as well as some of the spending details, leaves most Republicans in Congress skeptical.
Support from country
Biden's choice of Wisconsin for the town hall was no coincidence: he won the battleground state by just 20,000 votes against Trump in November and it will feature prominently again in the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential race.
On Thursday, he will go to another swing state when he tours the Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where coronavirus vaccines are being manufactured.
And on Friday, Biden will pursue his stimulus bill pitch on the international stage when he addresses the virtual G7 leaders' meeting and the Munich Security Conference.
The White House says he will stress "the importance of all industrialized countries maintaining economic support for the recovery and collective measures to build back better."
With slim majorities in both the House and Senate, Democrats could force through Biden's package without Republicans at all.
But Biden took office insisting he would seek cross-party solutions, turning the page on Trump's ultra-divisive style. So he is keen to break through to at least some Republicans.
Last week, Biden met in the Oval Office with a group of Democratic and Republican governors and mayors to discuss the Covid relief package.
As local and regional officials most immediately caught up in the consequences of the twin health and economic crisis, they were a relatively receptive audience.
"You folks are all on the front lines and dealing with the crisis since day one," Biden noted.
In Wisconsin, he insisted that only the "fringes" are keeping the country apart, where in reality "it's not nearly as divided as we make it out to be."
His efforts seem to be paying off -- among voters at least, if not yet with congressional Republicans.
A Quinnipiac poll this month showed nearly 70 percent of Americans support the stimulus package, while a CNBC poll reported 64 percent believe the price tag is sufficient or not even enough. Only 36 percent said it was too much.
Biden himself is on a solid footing with nearly 55 percent average approval ratings. Trump may still hold a powerful grip over the Republican voter base but his final average approval rating on leaving office was a measly 38.6 percent.
"If you look at the polls, they are very consistent," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
"The vast majority of the American people like what they see in this package and that should be... noted by members of Congress."