Biden speech preview: Are you ready for ... Independence Day?

Beats Labor Day as a target for normalcy, but even then Joe Biden will not likely promise the pandemic restrictions completely over. Multiple media outlets report that Biden will use his first presidential address tonight to urge Americans to remain careful about masks and social distancing, as well as order states to make vaccines available to all by May 1. The mass vaccinations and decline in transmission could mean that Independence Day could have a new meaning in 2021.

Unless the aliens show up, of course, and who would rule that out at this point?

His speech, set to begin at 8 p.m. ET, is meant to open the next chapter of the coronavirus pandemic, taking stock of the worst year in recent memory while projecting hope the next one will be better.

Using his executive authority, Biden will say that all states, tribes and territories must make all adults eligible for the vaccine by the start of May. He will use the July 4 holiday as a target date by which all Americans can gather in small groups with family and friends.

“The President will talk about small gatherings, like a barbecue in your backyard, in your neighborhood,” a senior administration official said. “He will be clear that does not mean large events where lots of people gather. But it does mean that we can once again have an Independence Day with small gatherings and celebrations and that’s a big step in the right direction.”

A separate official said Biden would warn Americans that reaching the July 4 goal will require continued vigilance about wearing masks, socially distancing and getting a vaccine when eligible.

Alaska is already opening vaccines to all adults; it seems likely that most if not all other states would be in position to beat Biden’s deadline anyway. The production of vaccines has recently sped up, as everyone knew it would as more manufacturing capacity came on line. Within the next few weeks, the shortage strategies should fade out and we might have to worry about a glut and storage more than shortages and targeted prioritizations.

The July 4 reopening date is weak sauce, too. If we get to mass vaccinations by May 1, the momentum of fully vaccinated people re-engaging in commerce and social activity will have gotten back into full swing long before then, especially for outdoor activities with “family and friends.” That might come as soon as Memorial Day, whether the White House and CDC like it or not. People want normalcy as fast as possible, especially in cold-weather country. They’re not going to wait until half the summer is gone to start their coming-out events.

Still, Biden will argue that a July 4 reopening will not be “an automatic thing,” White House sources say. It will depend on Americans continuing to abide by CDC recommended behavior, even though the CDC seems a bit unsure what they’re recommending at the moment. Biden also will “talk about what comes next,” the president himself told reporters yesterday, and that may be even more ambiguous:

The president faces real challenges ahead: a polarized country still deeply torn about whether to wear masks and remain in a tiresome lockdown; logistical barriers to vaccinating tens of millions of people and a portion of the public that remains deeply suspicious about receiving one; and Republican adversaries who have so far resisted Mr. Biden’s solutions, voting en masse against the president’s nearly $2 trillion rescue plan.

In the 20-minute speech, the president is not expected to unveil details of what he calls the “next phase” of the pandemic response. But his administration has already signaled that he intends to push for a far-reaching effort to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, providing new opportunities for jobs and pumping more into the economy.

The speech begins at 8 pm ET for those who want to watch live. This will not be a State of the Union speech, or more accurately for a new president, a speech to a joint session of Congress. Biden will also deliver that speech in the next couple of weeks, although there have been some suggestion that he might do the SOTU-esque event remotely.

Don’t expect too many surprises tonight, but we all know what we want to see. We need Randy Quaid telling COVID-19, “In the words of my generation …”