The first lady says real people are often caught in the middle as lawmakers fail to put in place sustainable policy.
WASHINGTON — Jill Biden went public on Monday with her frustration with a political process that she says treats legislation like a soccer ball to “pass or swing” while real people, like her community college students, wait for help. that would help them build a better future.
“Governing is not a game. There are no teams for or against, just people, Americans from all walks of life who need help and hope,” tthe first lady told a meeting of community college advocates in a message that also seemed aimed at members of Congress.
She was talking about a proposal to make community colleges free, promised during the 2020 presidential campaign, but now dropped from a much larger social welfare and climate bill that was a key national priority. for her husband, President Joe Biden.
Her pointed comments were unusual because first ladies typically try to avoid being drawn into the political fray or getting too involved in the legislative process. But the issue is deeply personal for Jill Biden, who taught at community colleges for many years and is a longtime supporter of waiving tuition to help students who attend those schools. She worked on the issue during the Obama administration, when her husband was vice president.
President Biden scrapped the tuition plan as he tried to win the support of leading Senate Democrats who opposed the scope and cost of the blanket measure, and which he desperately needed the votes for given the strong Republican opposition in a 50-50 split chamber.
But the “Build Back Better” bill ended up stalled in the Senate anyway, and one of those Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, recently declared the measure “dead.”
On Monday, Jill Biden told the Association of Community College Trustees’ national legislative summit that the president would continue to push Congress to pass the proposal.
“Joe doesn’t give up. He doesn’t give up. He is delivering on his promise to rebuild our middle class and he knows community colleges are doing just that,” the first lady said to applause.
Last year, Jill Biden, a former community college English and writing teacher, approached the organization with recorded remarksbowing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and promised that her dream of waiving some tuition would come true with her husband in the White House.
“We have to make sure it gets done. And we have to do it now. That’s why we’re going to make sure everyone has access to free training and community education programs,” she said in 2021.
Speaking in person Monday to a masked audience inside a hotel ballroom, she blamed the breach of the “compromise” the president had to make.
The first lady, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, spoke of having to lend a book to one of her students last week because he couldn’t afford to buy it before payday, and a student mother who eventually dropped out of class because her child caught COVID-19.
Both students would benefit from tuition-free college, child care assistance and other provisions of the stalled legislation, she said.
“Build Back Better isn’t just legislation and it’s certainly not pass or swing football,” Jill Biden said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the first lady “spoke from her heart.”
Myra Gutin, a professor at Rider University and author of “The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century,” said first ladies don’t attack Congress or call out their failures, but Jill Biden ” must have felt she couldn’t remain silent” on that particular issue.
“Her dismay is real and she wasn’t going to hide her lack of action,” Gutin said in an email.
The first lady, who grew up in Pennsylvania, started with a few words about her love for the sport and Philadelphia’s professional teams, before getting to the point.
“I’m a first lady to all Americans, but when it comes to teams, my heart goes out to the Philadelphia Eagles, 76ers, Phillies and Flyers,” she said. “The competition, the crowds, the rivalries, I love it all.”
“But too often we also treat what’s happening in the nation’s capital like a sports game, wondering which team will score the most points with voters,” she said. “Legislation becomes a soccer ball to be kicked to the other side, and Americans get lost in the playbook.”
Jill Biden said she and the president both knew getting a tuition-free college wouldn’t be “easy,” but she was still disappointed “because, like you, it’s not just bills or budgets for me”.
“We know what they mean to real people, to our students, and that was a real lesson in human nature that some people just don’t understand,” the first lady said.