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Biden urges national unity to reach normalcy

President BidenJoe BidenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE on Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of pandemic restrictions, urging Americans to come together and do their part to remain vigilant against the coronavirus in order to return to a semblance of normalcy by summer.

In his first prime-time address as president, Biden made an emotional appeal to Americans who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and those grappling with economic and personal hardships after a year of isolation.

The president balanced his look back at the grim year by offering a sense of optimism. He outlined steps his administration is taking to ramp up vaccine distribution, including a call for states to make all adults eligible to receive a shot by May 1.

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The country has seen hospitalizations, deaths and overall cases steadily decline in recent months as the weather warms and more Americans are vaccinated. Many states have started lifting restrictions, but Biden warned that progress could be lost if Americans don’t come together with a sense of national purpose to defeat the virus.

“Even if we devote every resource we have, beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity,” he said. “And national unity isn’t just how politics and politicians vote in Washington, what the loudest voices say on cable or online. Unity is what we do as fellow Americans. Because if we don’t say vigilant and the conditions change, then we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track.”

Biden announced he would direct states to make all adults eligible for shots no later than May 1. The administration plans to surge vaccinators and increase locations where Americans can get their vaccinations, and he touted the creation of a government-run website and call center to help individuals find a vaccine appointment once they are eligible.

The Biden administration has acquired enough vaccine doses to have adequate supply for every adult by the end of May, though the president cautioned that did not mean every American will be vaccinated by then.

But with each of those steps and continued masking and social distancing from the public, Biden said, the country could see an environment where it’s safe to hold small gatherings on the Fourth of July with friends and family.

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Biden, who has leaned into empathy throughout the pandemic, recognized the pain and loss felt by the American people over the last year, during which more than 530,000 Americans died from the virus, millions lost jobs and thousands of businesses shuttered. 

“While it was different for everyone, we all lost something. A collective suffering, a collective sacrifice,” Biden said. The president then pulled a notecard from his jacket pocket that he uses to track the number of deaths from the virus. 

Biden reflected on the missed birthdays, weddings, graduations and first dates, as well as the loss of life and employment experienced by many. 

“It’s the details of life that matter the most, and we miss those details,” Biden said. “It has all exacted a terrible cost on the psyche of so many of us because we are fundamentally a people who want to be with others.” 

Nevertheless, the speech held a clear message of hope for an end to the pandemic.

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The president's address came after he secured his first major legislative victory with the passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, which he signed into law earlier Thursday.

The bill provides funding for direct payments for many Americans, enhanced unemployment benefits through September, vaccine distribution and school reopenings. Administration officials have framed it as critical in the fight against the virus. 

During his speech, Biden also sought at times to draw a clear contrast to his predecessor.

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE was frequently criticized for a lack of empathy when discussing the toll of the pandemic and for his administration's overall response to the pandemic.

Without mentioning Trump by name, Biden said that the U.S. encountered “denials for days, weeks, then months,” a reference to his predecessor’s frequent downplaying of the dangers of the coronavirus. 

Biden continued, repeatedly vowing to tell the truth and urged Americans to have confidence in the government’s response to the pandemic.

“You’re owed nothing less than the truth. And for all of you asking when things will get back to normal, here is the truth: The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back on track, is to beat the virus,” Biden said.