WASHINGTON — Republicans lined up in opposition to President Biden’s latest ambitious economic package on Wednesday, choosing Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to deliver an official party broadside that accused the president of abandoning his pledge to seek political consensus in favor of a divisive and partisan agenda.
Delivering his party’s rebuttal to Mr. Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Scott signaled the bitter fight to come over the president’s efforts to increase government assistance to workers, students and families. The South Carolinian panned the president’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, branding it “big-government waste.” He also complained that Mr. Biden had eschewed compromise with Republicans — who have made it clear they have no intention of supporting government aid on he scale he has called for — to push through a one-sided agenda.
The response came after many Republicans had sat stone-faced and silent in the House chamber while Democrats stood to applaud as Mr. Biden laid out his agenda, including when he mentioned how the $1.9 trillion stimulus law — enacted this year over unified G.O.P. opposition — had cut child poverty by more than half.
Mr. Scott, the Senate’s sole Black Republican, also used his response to raise a litany of issues Republicans have sought to use as political cudgels against Democrats, including coronavirus lockdowns that shuttered schools and churches and a nationwide conversation about systemic racism that has taken hold amid protests of police killings of Black Americans.
“America is not a racist country,” Mr. Scott said, invoking his own experience as a Black man from the South. “It’s wrong to try to use our painful past to try to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
Though he did not single it out by name, Mr. Scott took aim at Democrats’ landmark voting rights bill, which Mr. Biden had called on Congress to quickly pass, and suggested that he was personally offended by attempts to frame it as the modern successor to the civil rights movement.
“This is not about civil rights, or our racial past,” he said. “It’s about rigging elections in the future.”
Mr. Scott’s speech, hailed by Republicans, underscored the long odds Mr. Biden faces in fulfilling his stated goal of finding a compromise with Republicans on a roster of legislation being considered in Congress, from infrastructure to child care to a policing overhaul.
Mr. Scott, 55, was tapped to deliver the rebuttal by the Republican leaders of the Senate and House, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, who cited his long-held belief in small government and his rising profile as a unifying figure in Congress, most recently on issues of race and police reform.
As evidence that Mr. Biden’s vision of more government support for working-class Americans was misguided, Mr. Scott cited his own remarkable story — how he was “disillusioned and angry” and nearly failed out of school after his parents divorced and his single mother toiled to support him and his brother.
“The beauty of the American dream is that families get to define it for themselves,” Mr. Scott said. “We should be expanding opportunities and options for all families, not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best.”
As he concluded his address, Mr. Scott, who is deeply religious, drew on themes of redemption and grace.
“Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams; it will come from the American people — Black, Hispanic, white, Asian, Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “Brave police officers and Black neighborhoods. We are not adversaries. We are all in this together.”
But much of his speech focused on accusing Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats of “pulling us further and further apart,” and centered on a theme that Republicans believe will help them reclaim majorities in the House and Senate in 2022: portraying Mr. Biden as beholden to his party’s left flank.
While last week Republicans introduced their own, drastically slimmed down answer to Mr. Biden’s sprawling physical infrastructure package — offering a $568 billion counterproposal that Democrats dismissed as inadequate — they have not offered an education and child care bill, and are not expected to offer a comprehensive alternative to the president’s latest proposals.
Instead, as they awaited his speech on Wednesday afternoon, some Republicans took to the Senate floor to preemptively denounce Mr. Biden’s approach. They painted the president’s two-pronged infrastructure plan — one to bolster the nation’s roads and bridges and another to expand access to education and child care, carrying a total price of just over $4 trillion — as unnecessary, expensive and intrusive government overreach.
“Behind President Biden’s familiar face, it’s like the most radical Washington Democrats have been handed the keys, and they are trying to speed as far left as they can possibly go before American voters ask for the car back,” Mr. McConnell said. “But it’s not too late. This White House can shake off its daydreams of a sweeping socialist legacy that will never happen in the United States.”