US President Joe Biden says America is “on the move” and that, despite the pain of the past year, the country can “turn peril into possibility”.
Mr Biden was marking his 100th day in office with an address to Congress, using the speech to promote a $1.8trn spending package.
The plan would provide universal preschool, two years of free community college, $225bn for child care, and monthly payments of at least $250 for parents.
Mr Biden also assessed the country’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 574,000 Americans.
He said that when he took office “America’s house was on fire – we had to act”.
After a promise of 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days, Mr Biden said there had instead been more than 220 million.
He said that when he took office, less than 1% of senior citizens were fully vaccinated but now that figure was nearly 70%.
“There’s still more work to do to beat this virus,” the president added. “We can’t let our guard down now.
“But tonight, I can say because of you – the American people – our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history is one of the greatest logistical achievements our country has ever seen.”
Mr Biden’s surroundings were historic – it was the first time during such a speech that a president had two women sitting behind him: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
HIs first ovation came after he greeted Ms Harris, saying: “Madam Vice President…no president has ever said those words from the podium, and it’s about time”.
But the rest of the chamber was depleted – a sole Supreme Court justice was in attendance and many Republicans had cited “scheduling conflicts” as a reason to stay away.
Many cabinet members were not there, so there was no need for a “designated survivor”.
But none of this dampened the president’s spirits, as he said: “I have never been more confident or more optimistic about America.
“We have stared into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy – of pandemic and pain – and ‘We the People’ did not flinch.”
Mr Biden also sought to reassure allies, some of whom had grown tired of the country’s changing priorities under his predecessor Donald Trump.
“We aren’t going it alone – we’re going to be leading with our allies.
“No one nation can deal with all the crises of our time alone – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to mass migration, cybersecurity, climate change – and as we’re experiencing now, pandemics.”
America should become “an arsenal for other countries”, he added, likening it to the image of the country as the “arsenal of democracy” during the Second World War.
There were warnings for China, Russia and North Korea, with China being singled out in a call for “every nation (to play) by the same rules in the global economy”.
“In my discussion with President Xi, I told him that we welcome the competition – and that we are not looking for conflict.
“But I made absolutely clear that I will defend American interests across the board.”
These included standing up to unfair trade practices, maintaining a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, and calling out breaches of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Regarding Russia, Mr Biden said: “I made very clear to President Putin that while we don’t seek escalation, their actions have consequences.”
But he also said that the two countries could work together where possible, on issues such as climate change.
He also said the nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea present a “serious threat” to US and world security, and that the US would be “working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy and stern deterrence”.
He repeated his promise to “end the forever war” in Afghanistan, saying: “After 20 years of American valour and sacrifice, it’s time to bring our troops home.”
But he vowed to remain “vigilant against threats to the US, wherever they come from”, naming al Qaeda and ISIS, which he said were in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, other parts of Africa and in the Middle East.