President Biden told Americans to reflect on “how far we’ve come” in a White House cookout designed to contrast the depths of the pandemic with Sunday’s family reunions and carefree cookouts — even as COVID-19 vaccination rates lag in places and a fast-moving variant threatens new peril.
Standing on the South Lawn, Mr. Biden repeatedly referenced the Founding Fathers who delivered a “call to action” with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, toggling between lofty and hopeful rhetoric and the challenge that remains as nations try to outpace the wily pathogen with vaccines that are plentiful in some quarters and scarce in others.
“Today, we celebrate America! Our freedom, our liberty, our independence,” Mr. Biden told over 1,000 essential workers and military members gathered at the White House party. “We’re back traveling again, we’re back seeing one another again. Businesses are open and hiring again.”
“We’ve gained the upper hand against this virus. We can live our lives,” he said. “Our kids can go back to school. Our economy is roaring back. Don’t get me wrong. COVID-19 has not been vanquished. We all know powerful variants have emerged, like the delta variant. But the best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated.”
The president acknowledged the sobering U.S. death toll from the virus, which has reached over 605,000, and tipped his hat to servicemen and women in attendance as part of a separate call to action amid the wind-down of the warn in Afghanistan and a raging debate over voting rights.
“There’s nothing guaranteed about our democracy. Nothing guaranteed about our way of life. We have to fight for it, defend it, earn it,” he said.
He explicitly mentioned the right to equal justice under the law, the ability to vote “and have that vote counted” and the right to “breathe clean air, drink clean water and know that our children and grandchildren will be safe on this planet for generations to come.”
Mr. Biden entered to cheers and with a spring in his step as he exited the White House to the brass of the Marine Band.
“This year, the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration for we are emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, A year of pain, fear and heartbreaking loss,” Mr. Biden said.
The U.S. is averaging about 13,000 coronavirus cases and fewer than 300 deaths per day, the lowest levels since March 2020 as the administration and states oversee a vaccination campaign that began under former President Trump.
Mr. Biden pointed to Independence Day as the entry point to normalcy months ago. But he fell short of his goal of getting at least one shot into 70% of U.S. adults, and lagging vaccination rates in pockets of the country are making him skittish as the fast-moving delta variant drives outbreaks.
Less than half — 47% — of the nation’s population is fully vaccinated.
Some wondered if Mr. Biden was sending a mixed message by holding a large gathering, given the precarious situation.
The administration said guests had to show a negative test within three days of the cookout and that unvaccinated persons should wear a mask.
No one, however, appeared to be wearing a mask at the event that featured bounce castles, volleyball nets and red, white and blue decor in the trees.
“I truly believe, we’re about to see our brightest future,” Mr. Biden said. “Folks, this is a special nation, a great nation.”
In closing, he paid homage to the idea that America was founded on a belief that all are equal.
“Every generation of Americans has expanded it wider and wider to include those who were excluded before. That’s why it’s never gathered dust in our history books. It’s still alive today,” Mr. Biden said. “My fellow Americans, now we are the guardians of that very idea of America. It’s up to us to save it, to preserve it, to build on it. And I know we will.”