Biden revives weekly presidential address with personal phone calls

President Joe Biden brought a historical tradition back to the White House: weekly presidential addresses, with a new twist.

The White House on Saturday released a two-and-a-half minute video of Biden’s phone call with Michele Voelkert.

Biden gave a pep talk to the California woman who was laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic during the conversation, which the White House said is part of an effort to help the president engage more consistently with regular Americans.

In the video, Voelkert said it was the first time she had been laid off in her life. She found solace in connecting with others on Facebook who were going through the same ordeal. She then wrote to Biden to express how she felt. 

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"Well, I wrote to you because, you know, I was laid off in July and it’s just been a tough time as far as trying to find work," Voelkert explained to Biden in the videotaped phone call. 

Biden, who spoke from behind his Oval Office desk, replied that his father used to say a job is about dignity and respect as much as it is about a paycheck. He described his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, which calls for $1,400 payments to people like Voelkert, and other economic aid for individuals and small businesses. The plan also contains money to help distribute coronavirus vaccines.

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"I’ve been saying a long time, the idea that we think we can keep businesses open and moving and thriving without dealing with this pandemic is just a nonstarter," Biden said.

Biden also briefly spoke with Voelkert’s daughter.

The Sacramento Bee said it spoke to Voelkert, 47, after the call. "It was the opportunity of the lifetime," she said. "I’m still riding high."

"Well that doesn’t happen everyday ...," she posted on her Facebook page.

The conversation was part of an effort to help Biden, who has largely limited his travel because of the pandemic, communicate directly with Americans, the White House said. Biden did fly to Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday to spend the weekend at home with his family.

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"There is a time-honored tradition in the country of hearing from the president in this way," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday, previewing the video. She referenced Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "fireside chats" and Ronald Reagan’s establishment of a weekly radio address.

The radio address eventually grew to include a video version seen over the internet. The practice, however, lapsed under former President Donald Trump.

Biden’s weekly address will be produced in a variety of forms, Psaki said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.