by Darlene Superville
WASHINGTON (Associated Press) – Jill Biden on Monday declared her frustration with a political process that she says treats legislation like a soccer ball to “pass or spin” while real people, like her community college students, wait for help that would help them build better futures. .
“Governance is not a game. There is no difference to cheer for or against, just people, Americans from all walks of life who need help and hope,” the first lady said at a meeting of community college advocates in a message that appeared to also be addressed to members of Congress.
She was talking about a proposal to make community college tuition free, which she promised during the 2020 presidential campaign, but has now fallen out of the larger Social Welfare and Climate Bill that was a key domestic priority for her husband, President Joe Biden.
Her pointed comments were unusual because first ladies generally try to avoid being drawn into political strife or engaging in the legislative process. But the issue is very personal to Jill Biden, who has taught at community colleges for many years and is a longtime advocate of waiver of tuition to help students who attend these schools. She worked on this issue during the Obama administration, when her husband was vice president.
President Biden scrapped the education plan while trying to win the support of key Senate Democrats who objected to the scale and cost of the sweeping measure, and whose votes he desperately needed amid strong opposition from Republicans in a 50-50 divided room.
But the “Build Back Better” bill stalled in the Senate anyway, and one of those Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, recently declared the measure “dead.”
On Monday, Jill Biden told the National Legislative Summit of the Association of Community College Trustees that the president will continue to push Congress to adopt the proposal.
“Joe is not quitting. He is not giving up. He is keeping his promise to rebuild our middle class and he knows that community colleges are doing just that,” the first lady said to applause.
Last year, Jill Biden, a community college veteran professor of English and Writing, addressed the organization with taped notes, caving in to the COVID-19 pandemic, promising that her dream of waiving some tuition would become a reality with her husband in the White House.
“We have to get this done. And we have to do it now. That is why we will make sure that everyone has access to community colleges and free training programs,” she said in 2021.
Speaking face-to-face on Monday in front of a hooded audience inside a hotel ballroom, she blamed the failure to deliver on the “compromise” the president has to offer.
The first lady, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, spoke about having to loan a book to one of her students last week because he couldn’t afford to buy it before payday, and about a student mother who eventually left class because her child contracted COVID-19.
She said both students would benefit from a college free of tuition, childcare support, and other provisions of the stalled legislation.
“Building back better is not just legislation, and it certainly isn’t football that gets passed around or circulated,” Jill Biden said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the first lady was “spoken from her heart.”
Mira Goten, a professor at Ryder University and author of “The President’s Partner: First Lady in the Twentieth Century,” said first ladies don’t go to Congress or speak out about their failures, but Jill Biden “must feel she can’t shut up” given the importance of the topic to her.
“Her dismay is real and she didn’t want to cover up the lack of action,” Goten said.
The first lady, who was raised in Pennsylvania, opened with a few words about her love of sports and professional teams in Philadelphia, before hitting her target.
“I’m the first lady of all Americans,” she said, “but when it comes to the difference, my heart belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles, 76ers, Phillies, and Flyers.” “The competition, the fans, the competitions, I love it all.”
“But a lot of the time, we treat what’s happening in our nation’s capital as a sport as well, and wonder which team will score the most points with the voters,” she said. “Legislation becomes a football to get away from the other side, and Americans are lost in the rules of the game.”
Jill Biden said she and the president 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 to me.”
“We know what they mean to real people, to our students, and it was a real lesson in human nature that some people don’t understand,” said the first lady.